Town Manager Kevin Smith has ordered a spending freeze.
He told the Town Council at its Monday, March 3 meeting that not much has changed with regard to the snow removal or other budgets as of Feb. 28.
“We’re up higher than we should be and we’re up higher than we were in FY 13, so effective March 4, I’ve instituted a spending freeze for all non-essential items across all departments, and we will be looking at that every month to see where we’re at,” Smith said. “If it turns out at the end of March or the end of April we’re back where we should be, then we’ll lift the freeze at that time. I think it’s the prudent thing to do right now.”
Smith said that “just looking again at some of the areas where we saw the overages in the snow removal, Public Works budget, the firefighter overtime and the legal department, not much has changed.”
He said some accounting adjustments were made within the Public Works department that caused a slight increase, with that budget running about 10 percent higher than in FY 13. “We’re about 68 percent right now,” he said.
He said the Fire department overtime line was at $739,945, or about $15,000 over what was budgeted for FY 14. Last year that budget stood at $613,086.
“That said, the overall fire department budget is only running about 0.3 percent higher as of right now than it was in FY 13. So the chief has made adjustments in other areas to try to mitigate the overage in the overtime,” Smith said.
The police department is 0.1 percent above where it was r at this time last year.
“Legal is running about 36 percent higher this year than it was last year – we’re currently at about 150.6 percent of our budget,” Smith said.
Smith said that as for the bottom line, the town should be at about 66.6 percent at this time. Last year it was running at about 64. This year that figure stands at 71 percent.
Smith added, “every department head knows that they need to do what needs to be done within their department to make sure they continue to mitigate the problem we have right now.”
Resident Reed Clark said a lot of things needed to be done and noted that people were calling him about adding firefighters and other issues.
Resident Pauline Caron said the overages in the Legal budget related to what has happened in town this year and last. “The fire department has been running overtime and as they say, replacement time, since 2008/2009, when they went from a 48 hour week to a 42 hour week,” she said. “On Jan. 26, the Town Manager gave an analysis of the fire department, I checked the minutes on the town web site. It refers to reports attached, which aren’t attached to the minutes, but I was watching that night.”
She said that since 2008-09 the town has spent over $1 million on the fire department because of overtime.
“So the overtime is broken,” she told the Council. “It has to be fixed, yet additional firefighters are not going to help the situation, it’s just going to compound it and add extra overtime.”
She said the Council should consider having the fire department go back to a 48 work week and have enough firefighters working to cover the shifts. She also said the battalions should be cut back from four members to three.
Town Council Chair John Farrell said the Council was open to all ideas and that during collective bargaining, her suggestion “or something similar to it” was discussed.
Councilor Tom Freda said an analysis had been done with reference to hiring additional firefighters or staying with overtime replacement costs. He said that adding firefighters cost $9,000 more per firefighter due to fixed costs.
Smith noted that cutting the number of firefighters per battalion is not an ideal situation, but they were trying to strike the right balance.
Caron asked why she sees so many ambulances going by her house on Mammoth Road. Fire Chief Darren O’Brien responded that the department is busy answering calls and the closest ambulance to a call responds.