Cart Before the Horse

Four firefighter positions – out of the eight originally singled out – were not restored to the Town of Derry budget last year. This year, in planning the new budget, those four positions remain unfilled.

Is that because they were just “padding” or “fluff” anyway? After all, don’t firefighters just sit around all day?

The answer is no, no and no.

Those four positions would staff a tanker, making it possible to bring water to the large area of Derry that has no hydrants. Right now, the fire department has to rely on mutual aid from nearby towns for that area.

But even more important than the fact that those firefighters would play a significant role in the safety of residents, the positions were left unfilled for the new budget because their cost – $350,000 – is what was needed to achieve a 1 percent cut in taxes.

Acting Town Administrator Stephen Daly said he looked at the cost of providing services as opposed to “what the money is spent on” in choosing the firefighter positions.

And while both Daly and the Town Councilors emphasized that the budget is far from final, it’s where they’re going to start.

Last year, Galen Stearns, Town Administrator at the time, cut the four firefighter positions when he presented the budget. The Town Council – on a 4-3 vote – cut four more positions, which were later reinstated in a special town vote. Today, three of those four Councilors who voted in favor of cutting firefighter jobs are no longer on the Council.

Asked about the remaining four unfilled firefighter positions, Daly said he could not comment on the impact of the proposal until he had discussed the budget with the Town Council.

And in an email to the Nutfield News, he said the effect of the unfilled jobs on fire operations was an appropriate question, but one that would be addressed with the Council first.

While not filling the four firefighter jobs would make for easy math in producing a 1 percent tax cut, it should be discussed only in the context of how those positions would contribute to public safety, shown by both Derry voter action and a Town survey last year to be a very high priority.

Yes, go ahead and have the conversation – publicly, we hope – with the Town Council. And answer questions about public safety in determining whether keeping those positions empty is in the best interest of Derry residents.

And once and for all, stop putting the cart before the horse.

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