By Bill Kirk
---- — Despite ongoing questions over exactly what an additional program coordinator will do at Andover Youth Services, the Board of Selectmen Monday night endorsed the town manager’s plan to cut $54,418 from elsewhere in the budget to support the new position.
By a 4-1 vote, with Selectman Mary O’Donoghue opposed, the board approved Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski’s plan to fund the AYS position by cutting $20,000 from the accumulated benefits budget, $15,000 from the legal department and $19,418 from the street light account.
In his original budget, Stapczynski did not fund the position. But concern over several heroin overdose deaths last year and a rise in non-fatal overdoses this year, along with accounts of an increase in addiction to painkillers and other prescription drugs among young people, led selectmen to ask Stapczynski to add the position to next year’s budget.
When O’Donoghue asked Stapczynski exactly what the new position would do, he said it was a “mid-level position of program coordinator ... that specializes in working with groups and families, on program development and counseling. It’s what the (AYS) team does already.”
He said the salary, at just over $54,000, “is what you’d pay for a starting master’s-level social work candidate. This is not a licensed social worker, so much as someone who is an expert working with young people and issues young people have.”
Stapczynski has said in the past that the position was not intended to focus on the heroin problem, but was to be more broad-based.
Bill Fahey, executive director of Andover Youth Services, said in a memo of support for the position that the responsibilities of the new employee would include “developing, implementing and coordinating diversified, youth-based programs, activities and special events while following the youth-development model.”
He went on to say: “Under the direction of the executive director of AYS, this individual would focus on non-fee, support programs including outreach, one-on-one counseling, creative prevention, resource coordination, community forums and group workshops on specific issues like mental health, divorce and substance abuse.”
O’Donoghue said she voted against the proposal because she was unclear on what the position was supposed to do.
“I think people have voted for a position they think is something else,” she said. “I asked Buzz what it was. It’s an additional support function in the department. It’s not specifically dedicated for addiction-related cases. ... We are expanding a department here.
“The police chief spoke two weeks before about the need for a dedicated person. But we are talking about somebody quite different, I think.”
Selectman Dan Kowalski said it’s not the job of the Board of Selectmen to dictate a job description to a town department. He said the board’s job is to set policy direction.
“One of the things we learned in this process is that if there are policy decisions that need to be made, the board needs to be part of the discussion,” he said. He noted that in Fahey’s original budget request, he sought approval for a program coordinator and a clerk. Stapczynski recommended funding for the clerk, not the program coordinator.
During a budget hearing earlier this year, Fahey told selectmen he would rather have the higher-level position, which was new information to board members, who had been relying on statements from Stapczynski about the needs of the department.
“Bill (Fahey) said he wanted the higher-level position, so why was the town manager going with the lower-level position?” Kowalski asked. “I was taken aback we weren’t allocating resources to what was a valuable position in the community. It was my intention to raise the subject again. We heard all kinds of community feedback in support of the position.”
He applauded Fahey for zealously arguing his position.
“I’m sure they will be focusing on addiction-related items and the needs of young people,” he said. “This is innovation, which is great.”