The voters’ approval of eight referendum petitions to restore items cut from Derry’s 2016 budget was greeted with relief by the department heads affected by the cuts.
The Oct. 13 election was in response to a May 19 vote by the majority of the Town Council to cut police personnel, fire personnel, police overtime, fire overtime, public works personnel and overtime, and the Human Resources Director position. In addition, the majority of the Council voted to close one of the town’s four fire stations.
The petitions were all approved by the voters, some with narrow margins, some with large, in the Special Election Oct. 13 (See related story page 1).
Two of the department heads admitted they don’t know what the restoration of funding is going to look like. The Council was scheduled to discuss how to restore the funding in its Oct. 20 meeting, which took place after the Nutfield News went to press.
Police Chief Ed Garone said, “From a public safety standpoint, I’m pleased with the outcome of the vote. Both sides put in an effort, and it was good to see the response of the community.
Six thousand Derry residents voted on the petitions (see related stories page 1).
But Garone warned, “We are not out of the woods yet.
“We are in a holding pattern until we see how the Council wants to fund this,” he added. “It could be savings from cuts. It could be tapping the fund balance. If they do it any way besides increasing the tax rate, we’ll find ourselves in the same position next year.”
Garone said he has had an initial meeting with Interim Town Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Susan Hickey.
Garone will be seeking to fill more than the four positions that were cut, he said. He has had three people retire, and by the end of October, he expects to have seven positions to fill.
Garone said the four positions from the budget cuts were dealt with in the following manner: one was already vacant and he didn’t fill it, and the other three were accomplished by three officers leaving. Two went to other jobs in law enforcement, while the third joined his family’s business.
Having the funds, and positions, restored creates another problem for Garone. “We’re having a difficult time attracting applicants,” he said. While Derry’s budget turmoil of the past six months didn’t help, the number of applicants for police jobs all over New Hampshire is down. For a position open this summer, he said, he received 10 applicants, while historically Derry has drawn 120 to 140. He ran the ad again and got 35.
And just “hiring” someone doesn’t get them on the street, Garone pointed out. There’s the Police Academy, a 14-week process, plus 12 weeks of field training specific to Derry.
“If the funds are restored through the process of taxation and it creates a tax base sufficient to support the next fiscal year, we will be able to hire seven people,” Garone said.
If he can find them.
Mike Fowler, Director of Public Works, also said he was pleased with the result of the voting. “I feel better about the situation,” he said. “With the positions and overtime restored, we will better be able to cover the needs of the community.”
Fowler eliminated two full-time positions, a laborer with Parks and Recreation and a truck driver for the Highway Department. The Parks and Recreation worker also helps out with winter issues, he said, and with both positions restored, “We will have more employees to deal with the snow and ice.”
The positions were already vacant for the May 19 budget vote, and that worked for Fowler, who noted, “We didn’t have to lay anyone off.”
When Hickey and the Council say the word, he’ll put out an ad for the positions. While he doesn’t expect to have anyone in position until Dec. 1, looking for help is “a nice problem to have,” Fowler said.
He’s also pleased about the restoration of overtime. His overtime budget was originally $124,000, and the Council budget cut it in half. But last year’s rough winter brought $190,000 spent on overtime, and he’s expecting another rough one this year.
Fowler emphasized that his overtime budget goes almost completely to snow, sand, salt and shoveling. Unlike Police and Fire, he does not use the overtime budget to fill in for employees on sick leave, vacation time or personal days. He doesn’t have three shifts to cover.
“We just work a single shift, Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” he said. “When someone can’t come in, we work around it. So when we make a call at 10 p.m. to start plowing, it’s outside their regular hours.”
Fowler added, “We have to wait and see what the final outcome is. The funds may be designated and appropriated, but we take our direction from the Interim Town Administrator, and she takes hers from the Council.”
Fire Chief Michael Gagnon, who lost not only four firefighter positions but an entire fire station, said he would keep his comments until after the Oct. 20 Town Council meeting, which occurs after press time.