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Derry fire chief: Overtime cuts were expected

Union Leader correspondent

April 29. 2013 8:22PM

DERRY - It was not much of a shock to Fire Chief George Klauber when the Town Council voted to cut the department's overtime budget by $50,000 at its latest budget review workshop.

"I'm aware and I've read in the papers that there have been concerns about overtime," Klauber said.

At previous budget review workshops, the council cut the requested police overtime budget by $50,000 and the requested Department of Public Works building and grounds overtime budget by $6,000.

Councilor Tom Cardon made the motion to reduce the fire department's overtime budget request from $657,068 to $607,068.

The cut passed along the same council lines as previous overtime cuts, with Cardon, Mark Osborne, Al Dimmock, and Chairman Michael Fairbanks supporting the cut and Brad Benson and Neil Wetherbee opposing it. Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores abstained.

Klauber said the overtime budget has fallen drastically since 2006, when the Derry Fire Department fully consolidated with the East Derry Fire Department. In 2006, he said the overtime costs were over a million dollars and by 2012 the budgeted amount fell to $571,396.

While the overtime request for fiscal year 2014 was about $74,000 greater than requested for the current fiscal year, Benson said the cut will put the department well below the actual projected overtime costs for the current year.

Klauber said bare bones staffing levels, as well as five firefighters on long-term disability, helped necessitate the increase in overtime.

"We have not asked for an increase in the last two or three budget cycles, but we can no longer do that," said Klauber. "We have looked at what we have budgeted and spent over the last three to four years, and we think that number is appropriate.

Klauber said the overtime cut would have an immediate impact on public education programs, such as free CPR training for residents and could eventually affect staffing levels at the town's four fire stations.

Before the motion to cut the overtime budget, Osborne asked that the permanent position budget for the fire department be flagged for further review. While he did not make a motion to cut personnel, Osborne raised a number of questions about the battalion chief position and the call load at the town's four stations.

Klauber said he would get further information to Osborne on those issues. He did say the battalion chiefs act as shift commanders for each of the department's four shifts, and that they also take on administrative duties that would typically be handled by assistant or deputy fire chiefs in other communities.

Klauber also noted that the fire department's staffing levels have fallen over the past several years to the point where if there were any further cuts to personnel, it could lead to a closing of one of the town's fire stations.

"You are telling us that the budget is so shoestring that cutting one or three or four positions could result in the closing of a station?" Osborne asked.

"Yes sir," said Klauber. "And I've gone on record as saying that last year during the budget process."

He stated that closing one of the town's fire stations would dramatically increase response time for the area of town affected by the closing to as long as 10 to 12 minutes.

Benson also said that if the council were to make a cut to the fire department's personnel line item, it would not result in cuts to the battalion chief position but to the lower ranking positions.

"I want to qualify that 10 minutes," said Benson. "If we had a 10 minute response time, I would not be sitting here right now."

Benson had a cardiac issue in September, and said if first responders had not gotten to him in time, he could have died.

"We can all talk about how this works, but until it affects you personally, you don't know how that works," he said. "This is a very personal thing for me because first responders saved my life."

The council moved forward with a total fire department budget of $10,091,414 with the permanent position line item flagged for further review.

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