Council Hears Fire Department Overtime Budget Concerns

Acting Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said that since he took command of the department on March 1, he and staff have been “tearing the budget apart to see where we are at and the overall budget is at 70.33 percent so overall we’re looking OK, we’re a little high but not off the scale.” O’Brien said that the problem the department was having is with the overtime costs.

“It was told that we were supposed to come to you (town council) when we were at 75 percent and today we’re at about 93 percent. Predictions are from this point on at the current staffing level of 10, for the next three months 12 days, we’re predicting our budget to be over somewhere around $225,000,” O’Brien said.

Councilor Joe Green said that replacement costs are dilineated from overtime costs where replacement costs are for vacations, sick days and overtime costs were for employees coming in “off shift.” O’Brien said that overtime was indeed when extra coverage was needed or when a truck needed to go to Massachusetts for repair and that the process now is better than it had been in the past now that the two categories, replacement costs and overtime were budgeted as separate items.

O’Brien said that there may be additional cost overages as there have been unexpected repair costs accrued. “Our emergency generator failed at Central station and we’re currently using the portable generator from the high school,” O’Brien said.

Acting Town Manager William Hart said that at the end of February which was approximately the 67 percent place in the (fiscal) year, “we took a look at what we anticipate going forward and we do anticipate revenues this year will be up from projections both at budget time and the halfway period. We expect that every other department, say fire, will be at or under budget, not substantially, but in a manner that will allow us to cover the cost of the fire department overage.”

Hart said that at this point that he didn’t want to be “wildly optimistic, which would not be prudent but I would give no concern but that we would be at or under budget and show a surplus this year overall.” Hart said that he was working with O’Brien at various plans internal to the fire department to mitigate the overage over the next three and a half months, which would include the minimum staffing of ten as set forth by the town council.

He said that in terms of the overall fire department budget that he felt it would be showing a surplus. Councilor Tom Freda asked if perhaps hiring additional firefighters would reduce overtime costs in the future and Hart said that the department would need to hire three firefighters to have additional coverage at each of the three stations and that it could in fact lead to additional overtime costs.

Hart said that the best way to solve the problem was to look internally at costs.
Councilor Tom Dolan said that at the May 6 meeting which would be about seven weeks before the end of the fiscal year that the council should take another “snapshot to see where we are.”

Hart agreed and said that he would happy to do it to be more transparent to the citizens.
O’Brien said that he had put a spending freeze on anything that wasn’t an emergency and that he didn’t have any staff that was abusing time and Council Chairman John Farrell said that he didn’t think that was the case and that no one was saying that there were abuses but that the issue of costs needed to be looked at.

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