Fire, police '13 budgets: Small increases, close scrutiny
The Boards of Finance and Selectmen spent about three hours reviewing proposed spending for the 2012-13 budget from the town's public-safety and health departments Tuesday, though the requested increases are minimal.
Both the Fire and Police department budgets together would rise less than 1 percent in the proposed spending package with the police budget actually representing a .06 percent decrease. For Fire Department officials, the questions focused more on what they didn't ask for than what they did.
The Fire Department request is $13,579,672 for 2012-13, compared to the current $13,525,985.
Finance member Christopher DeWitt asked if it wouldn't make more financial sense to hire new firefighters to fill the vacancies in the department, rather than budgeting $418,100 for overtime, a concern expressed by several board members. Kevin Kiley, another finance board member, wanted to know what the tipping point was, when the repeated use of personnel on overtime could have an impact on the safety not only of firefighters, but also the public.
Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid said using firefighters on overtime, rather than hiring to fill vacancies becomes a problem when there are eight or nine vacant positions. Right now, there are four vacancies in the department, he said, adding that at that level it is less expensive to cover vacancies through overtime rather than hiring and training new firefighters.
Selectman James Walsh asked why there were no requests for any fire trucks in the budget, particularly since it takes more than a year once a truck is ordered for it to be delivered.
He noted that one year, the town split the cost for a truck over two years, and wondered if that shouldn't be done again. Kiley said it was done that way once, but, "We ran up against some bonding issues, so I don't think it was the recommended practice going forward."
With the cost of a new ladder truck in the $1 million range, First Selectman Michael Tetreau said the idea is to bring a proposed truck purchase forward later this year as a separate capital project.
Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller also said the fire budget does not include funding for the recently approved firefighters' union contract, but said when that money is added into the salary line, a corresponding amount will be taken from the contingency account.
For the Police Department, questions centered on higher revenue projections. Under a change in state statutes, towns now receive $10 for each ticket issued for motor vehicle "moving" violations. That surcharge received by the town is expected to rise from $50,000 to $80,000.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara said the increase is due, in part, to a recent reorganization that resulted in a traffic-enforcement unit. "We've assigned some resources to traffic enforcement and they've obviously been quite successful," he said.
The Police Department's current budget is $14,722,152 and the requested budget is $14,713,843.
When it was time for the Human Services Department budget, Tetreau said the agency reallocated money from several accounts in order to provide increased maintenance services at the Senior Center. The department is also seeking $27,061 to purchase a new transportation van at the center.
The current budget for the Human Services Department is $532,854 and its request is for $559,587.