, Derry, New Hampshire

January 16, 2014

Londonderry councilors ponder fire budget

By Julie Huss

---- — LONDONDERRY — Residents are giving a big show of support to the fire department, hoping the town will consider putting more staff in the town’s stations.

The town continues its budget work and the fire department remains a top concern, particularly with how to cover overtime costs and how much money the department needs to function next year.

That includes deciding on whether more staff is needed to adequately protectthe town.

Resident Maria Newman wants more staff.

“We’re hoping we can come to some sort of a way to hire firefighters,” Newman said. “It’s so important that we staff those shifts properly.”

Newman said she had an emergency at her home and appreciated the quick response from the fire department.

“I know it costs money,” she said. “I know it’s hard, but this is public safety.”

Newman said voters supported the rail trail project in town with a petitioned article last March. She hopes voters will do the same for the fire department.

Resident Joe Sarno also heralded the importance of keeping the town’s fire stations well staffed. Right now, stations are staffed with 10 firefighters, but Sarno said more are needed.

When he suffered a heart attack, Sarno said, firefighters responded and got him to the hospital in time.

“What’s your life really worth?” Sarno asked councilors. “If we drop below 10 (firefighters), there will be problems.”

Overtime costs have been an ongoing issue as councilors grapple with next year’s budget. Those numbers spiked several years ago when a firefighters’ contract lowered the number of shift hours worked per week from 48 to 42.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said the decrease in hours caused overtime to increase.

“The result of moving from 48 to 42 hours in 2009 has cost the town $2,517,579 over the last five years,” he said.

Town Council Chairman John Farrell it’s not about not hearing residents’ concerns, but more about how to pay for the things the town wants.

“It’s not that the Town Council is not hearing you, we are,” Farrell said. “We have an outstanding fire department; we’re trying to figure out how to make it all work. I’ve been their number one supporter for the last 10 years.”

Farrell said he hoped to find options. Some options include a warrant article for $240,000 for replacement cost, scheduling changes, or an article calling for more firefighters.

“We’re trying to figure this out,” Farrell said. “Those are the decisions we have to make.”

The Town Council hosts another budget hearing on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. at Moose Hill Council Chambers at the town office complex.