Budget Cuts Will Close Hampstead Road Fire Station

The town’s three largest departments are finding different ways to cope with the across-the-board cuts voted for by a majority of the Derry Town Council.

At the May 19 Town Council meeting, the Council revised Town Administrator Galen Stearns’ proposed 2016 budget. Cuts to Fire included four positions, added to four vacant positions Stearns proposed not to fill, for a total of eight and a savings of $384,424; cutting overtime by 50 percent, a savings of $339,412; and closing one of the town’s four fire stations.

Cuts to Police included four positions, for a savings of $384,000, and $150,000 worth of overtime.

Cuts to Public Works included two positions and cuts to overtime budgets of $60,600, Highway; $16,350, Transfer Station; and $7,950, Buildings and Grounds.

All the cuts passed 4-3. In favor were Mark Osborne, Al Dimmock, Thomas Cardon and David Fischer.


Fire Chief Michael Gagnon is getting along with fewer layoffs than he feared, but one more than he’d hoped for.

Gagnon saw eight positions eliminated. Four of them were already vacant, and he found three others he wouldn’t have to fill: a resignation, a retirement and the Director of Fire Prevention, which had not been filled since the Town Administrator ordered a hiring freeze in December.

This leaves him with one firefighter to lay off, and following the “first hired” principle, it will be his most junior staff member.

While many community members reacted quickly to the closure of a fire station, predicting it would be Hampstead Road, the Councilors had not made that decision at their May 19 meeting. But after review, Gagnon confirmed Hampstead Road would be closed.

“It is the one station we can close and still be able to converge on that area of town,” he said. While Hampstead Road is the third busiest of the town’s four stations, Island Pond is more geographically difficult to get to, Gagnon said.


Police Chief Ed Garone said he did not have a final plan in place because he hadn’t talked with Stearns. “I have to confer with Galen as to the department’s flexibility regarding the cuts,” he said.

Garone said the four positions equate to 1,511 days of officer coverage over a fiscal year. However, of those shifts, 90 days would be vacation days, leaving a total of 1,421 days uncovered.

“The real impact,” he said, “would be those 1,421 days.”

Garone said if those numbers stand, he will want to look at personnel currently not assigned to patrol cars, such as School Resource Officers, detectives, administration and training officers. He said he would want to be able to reassign sworn officers from those categories to patrols, because, he said, “Our number-one priority is uniformed officers in patrol cars.”

Garone emphasized that shifting people from offices to cruisers is just one possibility. “We are still looking at this,” he said.

The other piece, Garone said, is the loss of step raises. “That will be devastating to people who are on the bottom step,” he said.

Some of his people have said that they plan to leave, and Garone is faced with the possibility of hiring.

“I don’t know who’d be interested in taking a job with us,” he said.

Public Works

At press time, Public Works Director Michael Fowler knew he wasn’t going to have to lay off anyone as he had recently had two vacancies occur due to retirements, one in Highway and one in Parks. He chose not to fill those positions.

But he expects to feel their loss.

Fowler said he had talked to Stearns and outlined the situation, which he says is two-fold. One aspect is the reduction in force of two people, the other the cut to overtime.

“My main concern,” Fowler said, “is that we face five months of winter, and we have to have ample forces available.” While the Highway position was directly involved in snow removal, the person in the Parks position was also deployed during storms, he said.

Fowler knows that the “expectations of service” will not diminish. “Should we reduce the levels of service, or bring in more contractors?” he asked. But with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find qualified freelance contractors.

While residents will want their roads cleared so they can go to work or other commitments, Fowler pointed out, “You can only go so fast in a plow truck.”

He added, “We need to set an example with our employees as to what our priorities will be moving forward.” And that won’t include pushing a plow truck to exceed the speed limit, he said.

Fowler said his department did a remarkable job in last year’s tough winter and received “a lot of compliments. But it required a lot of manpower.”

His employees care about their jobs and will give it their best, he said, adding, “But you can only ask them to perform so many hours safely.”

And many people don’t realize that storms are not just the six to 10 hours it’s actually snowing, Fowler said. “It’s the aftermath, when we clean up the corners, the sidewalks,” he said.

Without counting the Parks employee, he’s gone from 11 Highway employees to 10, and that will affect performance, Fowler predicted, saying, “It’s 10 percent less time on the job.”

Fowler is hoping to meet with the Council or have a workshop to figure out how it’s going to work. He declined to give an estimate on how many hours snow removal could be delayed, saying, “I don’t have a handle on that yet.”