While Derry’s Fire Chief deferred questions on a proposal not to fill four firefighter positions to Acting Town Administrator Stephen Daly, Daly said he could not comment on the impact of the proposal until he had discussed the budget with the Town Council.
At issue is one of the proposals Daly made for a working budget, which would effect a $1 cut to the tax rate by not filling the four positions and using money from the Unassigned Fund Balance.
The four positions were cut from the 2016 budget by former Town Administrator Galen Stearns and approved by a majority of the then Councilors in May 2015. In his budget request this year, Fire Chief Michael Gagnon asked for the positions to be reinstated.
Four more positions were eventually cut, for a total of eight. The four positions cut in the May 19 budget vote were restored in October at a Special Election.
At the March 15 Council meeting, as previously reported by the Nutfield News, Daly proposed a target budget of a 1 cent decrease on the tax rate, resulting in a tax rate of $9.15 per $1,000. Projected expenses would be $39,180,000, with revenues projected at $16,289,000, for a tax levy of $22,891,000.
Not filling the positions would result in a savings of $350,000, according to Daly.
Daly said in an e-mail that the effect on fire operations was an appropriate question, but that “I cannot speak about it at this time. I haven’t yet had that conversation with the Council, which needs to be where it first occurs.”
Ron Sebastian, president of the local firefighters’ union, said last year that the department responded to 4,376 calls in 2014 and that 57 percent of those happened when the department was out on another call.
Sebastian said should the positions be filled, those four officers would be assigned to staffing the tanker in non-hydrant districts. “Currently, the town has to rely on mutual aid for that,” he said. “We don’t have hydrants in some areas.”
Sebastian said, “In my opinion, staffing the tanker is vital to operational needs. It is a proven, safe and effective way to provide manpower and water supply.”
Last year the firefighters’ local mounted an organized effort to block funding cuts, including a Facebook campaign, demonstrating outside the Municipal Center, and packing the conference room. The effort sparked an awareness and support of the firefighters, with community members doing everything from baking cookies for the first responders to traveling to the nation’s capital to shoot a video (see related story page 3).
Sebastian said at this point, the union isn’t planning any formal campaign. “At this time, we are hoping the Council will ask the Fire Chief the important questions,” he said. “We hope they will see the need, the necessity, and make the right determination.”