Fire budget approved
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | November 14,2013
The Public Safety Committee couldn’t find anything to cut from the city’s $3,459,363 fire department budget.
The committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the budget as written. Each section of the budget is reviewed by an appropriate aldermanic committee, during which members may remove items but not add them. Then the entire budget goes to the full Board of Aldermen for final review before going to the voters in March.
“I would love nothing better than to start cutting left and right as much as I could because the taxpayers are at a breaking point, but in this particular budget, I don’t see the places to do it,” Board of Aldermen President David Allaire said at the close of the meeting.
The fire department’s budget is up $300,945 or 9.5 percent from last year’s $3,158,418. Roughly half of that — $162,501 — was due to the pension contributions for firefighters being moved into the department’s fund from a different section of the budget. The rest came from an $81,390 increase in salaries and associated personnel costs for the 28 full-time employees.
Fire Chief Robert Schlachter said the hike was due to both step increases for individual employees and an overall increase in the newly negotiated contract.
Alderwoman Sharon Davis asked if there was a way to move away from step increases to a system of merit raises. Mayor Christopher Louras said the step increases were part of the contract.
“The ship has sailed with fire, but we’re starting negotiation with police in January and that’ll definitely be on the table,” he said.
Schlachter said he had also requested $40,000 for repaving the parking lot and ramp at the fire station, but the mayor removed that expenditure from the budget he sent to the board.
Schlachter said the pavement was deteriorating, hard to plow and had not been redone in about 30 years.
“The front ramping where the trucks come out is kind of like the rolling sea,” Schlachter said. “We fill it in, but filling in only takes care of it for a certain amount of time. ... Every time you back in, if the paving shifts or heaves enough, the platform only has two inches of clearance.”
Louras said the chief cost of not doing the paving this year was the likelihood it would cost more in the future.
A non-personnel increase that did make it in the fire budget was $2,500 toward the purchase of a computer server for the department.
“We have a homemade, tied-together computer system,” Schlachter said. “The system is not working properly. We talked to our local computer expert in town. He said to make it work properly, we need a server.”