DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

March 6, 2014

Londonderry officials ponder town budgets

Snow removal budget was gone in January

By Julie Huss
jhuss@derrynews.com

---- — LONDONDERRY — It’s been a tough winter on the town’s finances with mountains of snow, legal issues and injured firefighters putting a big dent in Londonderry’s checkbook.

Town officials are pondering some early spikes in spending, including already using more than 100 percent of the snow removal budget as of Jan. 1.

“That doesn’t even include the snow storms we had in February,” Town Manager Kevin Smith reported at a recent meeting.

Last year, the totals were different, with only 27.8 percent of the snow removal budget spent by this time.

The budget details came as town councilors asked about certain department budgets and where spending currently stood.

Smith reported so far the town had spent upward of 64 percent of its total operating budget, compared to 58.1 percent at this time last year.

The Public Works Department budget is on track, according to finance director Susan Hickey.

But the fire department continues to be a source of spending concern for councilors, as the department has already spent almost 100 percent of its overtime budget.

Many meetings include discussions of the fire budget and how the town can curtail the spending for overtime and staff replacement costs.

Last year, the fire department went over the overtime budget by $204,000.

Smith said there are many fire personnel out on sick leave, or due to longterm injury — about 15 percent of the force. That’s something the town is working hard to mitigate, he said.

Fire staff had been dropped down to nine at the town’s three stations during off-peak hours. The regular 10 are on staff during the busiest times.

How to manage the high costs is something that concerns Town Council as well, as officials ponder what to do to somehow control the fire costs.

That could lead to some furloughs or a spending freeze in certain areas.

“We are trying to make up for some of the shortfalls,” fire Chief Darren O’Brien said. “We are at bare bones now; we’ve done everything we can.”

Any solution must keep firefighters’ safety at the forefront, O’Brien said

He said his department is doing little spending, unless a piece of equipment requires repairs.

Councilors were scheduled to hear more details at a meeting Monday night. That includes trying to get numbers in check.

“What are our priorities?” Town Councilor Tom Freda said. “What could be shut down?”

Smith said a more likely scenario would be to put some sort of freeze or furloughs in place.

“We might have to look at more drastic options,” he said.

Councilors were scheduled to hear more details on the budget at this week’s meeting.