Derry’s police and fire departments survived challenges to several budget items, as their chiefs cited the need at the April 30 budget meeting to serve the town safely.
Items “flagged” during the previous budget hearings for police and fire were $117,000 for lease of police cruisers and the salaries – and necessity – of the four fire Battalion Chiefs. Police Chief Ed Garone and Fire Chief George Klauber attended the meeting to advocate for their departments.
Town Administrator John Anderson said it was the practice to replace the patrol cars every three years. Not doing it, he said, would add money to the “vehicle repair” line item. Garone brought up the estimated mileage that would be on the cruisers by 2015 if they were not replaced, ranging from 97,743 to 170,130. “Would you want to load up your family and drive to the West Coast in a car that had 100,000 miles on it, and then have to stop suddenly?” he asked the Council. The cut would drastically affect his officers’ ability to do their jobs, he said.
Councilor Mark Osborne made a motion to eliminate the $117,000 from this year’s budget, which was seconded by Councilor Tom Cardon. “You took their cruisers, you took their overtime why not just eliminate the department altogether?” a frustrated Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said. Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs reminded the Council that if they remove the $117,000 from this year’s budget, it will leave a “hole” in the 2015 budget. Also, he said, the Council would be looking at approximately $16,000 more in vehicle repairs.
With a level-funded budget next year, the tax cap and a potential rise in health insurance, Garone would have to reduce two to three positions to get the $117,000 back, Anderson added. Osborne expressed frustration that, “We haven’t heard any of this before.” Councilor Brad Benson responded, “You were the one who chose not to talk to people, to go out and get your own independent research. You didn’t talk to the chief.” Benson said he switches out his Benson’s Lumber and Hardware fleet every four years – “and our drivers don’t go 100 miles per hour,” he added.
“Attacking me,” Osborne said, “is not going to solve the problem.” Benson said his remarks were not meant for Osborne in particular, but for the new Councilors in general.
But, he added, “You are using everyone else’s time to get yourself up to speed.” The problem, new Councilor Tom Cardon said, is one of timing. Under Derry’s form of government, “We’re elected in March, we have one meeting, and we’re thrown into the budget cycle,” he said. “We’ll have a better handle on the process next year.”
The issue, Benson said, “is bigger than this room here” in regard to Derry’s spiraling tax rate.
Cardon asked, “What do you think the schools are going to do next year?” “You know what the schools will do,” Benson responded. Councilor Neil Wetherbee said, “The police and fire and public works have developed a process in which they need to replace certain capital equipment at certain points in their life span. It’s not a good idea for us to come in and reinvent the wheel. Are we going to do this every year the school jacks up taxes?” The additional $800,000 voted in at the School District Meeting “could have funded Taylor Library for five years,” Wetherbee said.
Anderson suggested funding several smaller items, totaling $122,125, from the fund balance and leaving the cruisers in the regular budget.
Osborne repeated his motion to remove the cruisers from the budget. The vote was yes from himself and Cardon; an abstention by Al Dimmock; and no from Katsakiores, Wetherbee, Benson and Chairman Michael Fairbanks. The cruisers will stay in the budget.
After discussion the Council took no action to remove the fire battalion chief positions.