Earlier this evening Fire Chief Keith Gautreau presented his proposed budget for the upcoming year to the Finance Committee chaired, by city councilor Nick Mavadones. The conservative Mavadones is shockingly intolerant of other views and takes steps to be sure they aren’t heard. He has a one-track narrow mind. (See above photo of Councilor Mavadones).
Chief Gautreau said that this year’s budget calls for a 5.4% increase from last year – in the amount of slightly over $18 million. He gave a detailed review of his proposal and his concerted efforts to reign it in. He also explained there are some expenses over which he has no control. For example, the cost of renting water from the Water District in hydrants went up by 4% for the year.
The Chief’s recommendation called for retiring Engine 1 at the Munjoy Hill station on Congress Street. Those employees would be placed in other positions within the department. No jobs would be lost because of this transition. He said he needs several support staff in the office to do payroll and perform other administrative tasks. The Chief also said the response time to calls on the Hill would not be affected at all because there would still be Ladder 1 available. The Hill receives the lowest number of calls among the city’s stations.
The Fire Department is at full-employment with 226 employees. Years ago that was a much larger figure and there was much less over-time because of that. The large overtime has been a major issue for the Fire Department to resolve. Mayor Strimling indicated interest in learning more about how many more firefighters it would take to get the over-time figure down to a more sustainable figure. The Chief said that thirty additional fire fighters would be needed to avoid overtime. In 2006, there were 244 firefighters. The Chief said it would be impossible to totally eliminate overtime because of events like unexpected storms. He further said that 87.4% of the budget is for payroll expenses.
No public comment was permitted at this meeting, although there will be future opportunities for that. Councilor Belinda Ray, in whose district the Munjoy Hill fire house is situated, attended the meeting.
Mavadones showed no interest in a suggestion from Mayor Strimling that Chris Thomson, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 740, present his proposal to the Committee. Mavadones said: “I will not permit counter proposals from the public.” Thomson said that he and the Chief were not adversaries, and rather that his proposal complimented the Chief’s proposal. It was decided that Thomson would meet privately with city officials to discuss his proposal.
‘I’ve told the department that we need to start doing things differently. We don’t need to send two engines to one incident as we do now,” said Chief Gautreau. “I believe this is a responsible budget.”