FinCom considers Fire Department budget request

To address the issue of availability of hours, the Carlisle Fire Department is considering a couple of alternatives to be included in their FY19 operating budget. The Fire Department presented these alternatives to the Finance Committee (FinCom) on February 26.

As Chief David Flannery explained, as the department adds more firefighters, those firefighters are not able to commit to the same number of on-call hours as firefighters in years past. Based on 2017 data, with nine regular firefighters on the roster, the Fire Department had a 32. 1% shortage in availability compared with 12 firefighters in 2012 and a 2. 8% shortage. The Chief noted that five auxiliary firefighters are ready to receive more training but have not yet advanced to full firefighter status.

Initially Flannery planned to cover the shortage with per diem firefighters but found reluctance on the part of the Board of Selectman (BOS) who felt this might affect the morale of the current firefighters and they instead opted for an increase in stipends.

Incentivize by increasing rate

Flannery has proposed a different alternative that involves increasing the hourly rate for only regular firefighters during the hours when on-call availability is the lowest. Flannery believes that about half of the firefighters would take advantage of this $4. 99 per hour increase and the plan would cost $39K to fund. 

FinCom member Thomas Smith questioned the commitment from the firefighters and wondered why they were not asked to pledge a certain number of on-call hours when they sign up and if the department can require them to do so. Flannery assured the committee these firefighters are eager to “drop what they’re doing to help with a fire.” But also these are volunteer positions and the firefighters have regular jobs and family life to attend to.

It appears this issue is not specific to Carlisle. Flannery informed the committee that a shortage in availability is happening all across the country.

What to fund

The big question, FinCom Chair Scott Triola said, is how much should be funded in the Fire Department’s budget to address the availability shortage. Do you fund for the full amount or do you assume that only half of the firefighters will take advantage of this incentive?

FinCom member Michael Bishop went a step further. Bishop proposed giving the use of per diems a chance to see if it works. Start with providing an increase in stipend as an enticement and if that proves to be futile, switch to utilizing per diems. The Fire Department would have a specific dollar amount in its budget to address the problem, an amount that could be used for a stipend increase or hiring per diem firefighters. Committee member Victor Liang tagged onto that thought. Liang recommended informing the BOS of the amount to be funded and a plan for its use. The BOS would be updated on a monthly basis on the effectiveness of the stipend and if it proves to be ineffective, at which point the funds would be converted to the use of hiring per diems.

Facilities Committee

The creation of a new facilities department brings along an added position to the FY19 budget – a Facilities Manager who will report to the Town Administrator. Initially this new position was to work eight hours per week managing maintenance projects, but the Facilities Committee informed FinCom that eight hours may not be enough. The Facilities Committee is now requesting 18 hours per week which would add another $26K to the Facilities budget. This item will be up for discussion between FinCom and the BOS at their next meeting.

Triola reminded the Facilities Committee that the Warrant Articles for Town Meeting were set to be printed in the next few weeks and time is of the essence. The committee should begin drafting their Warrant Article stating the cost of the projects and the duration of time to complete the projects. The committee is interested in stating a five-year expiration on the Warrant, but Triola asked them to consider a three-year expiration. ∆