Friday, January 18, 2002
Police and fire ask $57K over FinCom guideline
Finance committee member John Nock observed at the committee's January 9 budget hearing that labor costs are about two-thirds of the town budget. No surprise then that most discussion at that hearing on the public safety budgets involved labor costs well beyond the two-and-a-half-percent budget increase requested by the finance committee in setting guidelines last October.
Fire chief Robert Koning asked for an additional $23,000 over the guideline for labor costs for fire and ambulance workers, principally to cover the cost of adding $500 to the yearly stipend paid to each firefighter, bringing the total to $1000, and raising the department's officers' salaries by an equal amount. According to Koning, selectmen agreed to do so three years ago, as part of an agreement to raise pay gradually. (Details may be found in table on page 4.)
Ambulance use up 38%
Actual fires (versus fire calls) rose 6% this year, raising the increase in the fire department budget by nearly 13%, well above the 2-1/2% guideline. Finally, the number of ambulance calls has leaped nearly 40% (from 136 to 188) in the past year so Koning asked for an additional $7,159, raising the ambulance budget just over 18% for next year. (See table for details.)
Police pay rises
Chief David Galvin reported that the police budget would rise almost $34,000, or nearly 7%, due primarily to a 6% increase in salaries and wages and overtime payments to cover time-off allowed under the current contract. (See table on page 4.) Galvin noted that, after reimbursement from the state for educational expenses under the Quinn Bill, the net increase would actually be less, 5.24%. Town administrator Madonna McKenzie reminded FinCom members that Galvin's proposed budget does not include any additional costs for a new contract, currently under negotiation.
Ambulance fund questions
FinCom member Simon Platt questioned the wisdom of the arrangement which deposits payments from townspeople and insurance companies for ambulance runs into a revolving account separate from other town fees. Until recently, fees paid for ambulance service were deposited into the general fund of the town, offsetting some of what it cost the town in labor and supplies to provide the service. However, the price of the vehicle itself was paid over a ten-year period by borrowing the purchase cost.
When the most recent ambulance was purchased, town meeting also set up a revolving fund to collect the ambulance fees, with the idea that at least some of those funds would be used when the town has to buy the next ambulance. However, since that fund was set up, none of the ambulance fees have been available to reduce the cost to taxpayers of the labor, maintenance and repair costs for the ambulance. As well, due to the constrictions of Proposition 2-1/2, diverting the ambulance fees to the revolving fund without paying any costs from that fund also has the effect of reducing the amount available to pay for other town services.
Instead, the money paid for the service is saved to reduce debt costs in the future. Platt was concerned about using operating income (the ambulance fees) to pay a capital expense (saving for ambulance replacement). Selectman Tim Hult noted that there is merit in having the ambulance costs go through the normal process for all capital expenses. However, having fees accumulate over a period of time will reduce debt service when the time comes to buy a new ambulance, Koning pointed out.
DPW asks 3%
McKenzie also reviewed the DPW's more modest request for a 3.2% increase, with only the road maintenance and tree cutting requests above the guideline (see details in table). She and Hult expressed hope that the town can recoup some of the DPW's estimated $50,000 cost to dispose of construction debris by requiring a $100 permit (as well as a sticker) to leave more than two barrels of such waste at the transfer station.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito