Friday, January 21, 2005
Police budget dominates opening of FinCom 2006 budget hearings
The Finance Committee launched its public hearings for the FY 2006 budget with the Police, Communications (Dispatch), Fire, Building Inspector, Assessors and general expense budgetary proposals. As expected, the Police Department presented the highest increase, with labor issues dominating the discussion.
Police Chief Dave Galvin and Lieutenant John Sullivan offered much the same discussion as presented to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) on December 15 (See Mosquito, January 7, 2005). The town's three-year contract with the police union (and a separate contract with Galvin and Sullivan) expires on June 30, at the conclusion of the current fiscal year. Negotiations between the union and the Board of Selectmen are slated to begin this month, although the results of these negotiations will likely not be known in time for the FinCom's recommendations to the town. The current contract includes a 3% increase in wages from FY04 levels. In addition, the contract offers "step increases" based on tenure of patrol officers (up to 4% for officers with at least five years of service), vacation of up to four weeks, a 20% educational bonus for officers completing their bachelor's degree. (The state suppies 50% of this under the Quinn bill.) Finally, officers may accrue up to 140 days of paid sick time at the rate of 14 days per year. The BOS, recognizing the importance of the upcoming contract negotiations on the overall police budget, will be using a professional negotiator to assist the town.
Galvin told the FinCom that the "guideline" budget of 2.8% over current levels would not be sufficient to cover the contractually anticipated increases for the above, with the exception of a 3% increase in wages ($27,082), nor would it leave room for any increase in other expenses. Wages and salaries account for over 90% of the department's operating budget. To more accurately forecast a "level service" budget, Galvin explained, he needs to include $12,482 in other contractual increases and a minimal 1.5% increase in other expenses, bringing the total to 4.1% over the current year (FY05) budget.
When asked by FinCom member Ray Wilkes to prioritize other needs for the department, Chief Galvin responded that a forecasted increase in sick time from 6 to 10 days per officer per year and the increased cost of gasoline were the top needs. The force has been using more sick time than in years past, Galvin explained, in part because many officers have young families who require a parent to stay at home if a child is sick. The alternative to the rising cost of gas, Galvin said, was simply not to operate the cruisers as much. Adding only these two items to the level service budget would add $16,500, for a total departmental increase of 5.8%.
When asked by FinCom member Sue Wolfe whether the department benchmarks its costs relative to comparable towns, Galvin indicated that FBI guidelines set a level of 2.5 officers per 1,000 people, which would indicate ten officers for a town of Carlisle's size. Carlisle has nine patrolmen and sergeants, plus Chief Galvin and Lieutenant Sullivan.
Fire Department Chief Dave Flannery presented a "level service" budget increase of 6.7% over the current year. In addition to the guideline increases of 3% for wages and 1.5% for other expenses, this budget would provide for increased inspections of public buildings, increased vehicle maintenance, and a stipend of $6,000 for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). The town's 12 EMTs are compensated for training and calls, but are not salaried. They were authorized to receive an additional $500 annual stipend last year, and the department is recommending that this be continued.
The "growth" budget would provide administrative support for Chief Flannery, who currently performs this work himself, and for further increases in building inspections. The department is required to inspect all schools four times annually, and also to inspect churches, day care facilities, town buildings and other buildings carrying an occupance permit for assembly. The size and number of such buildings has increased over the years, Flannery explained
Once again, the Committee was interested in a "benchmark" of departmental performance against comparable towns. In response to FinCom member Jim Fitzimmons' question, Flannery said that a six-minute response time is standard for the U.S., but that very few rural towns such as Carlisle can meet this. His department currently averages 8 to 12 minutes. A fire doubles in size every minute, he added. However, based on his discussions with insurance investigators, who presumably represent organizations with a vested interest in the outcome, Flannery said that Carlisle is considered a "very good" department.
Flannery went on to explain that the most recent significant fires in town had neither early detection, which is not something the department can control, nor an automatic alarm system, which is becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly in new construction. Another item noted by insurance companies is a home's proximity to fire cisterns. Carlisle is currently rated a "Class 9" town, meaning "unprotected", but an increase of ten cisterns, proposed at a capital cost of $140,000 over five years, would help move the town to a "Class 8D", or "limited water supply." The town's Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee has endorsed this proposal.
FinCom member Wilkes probed further as to how this might reduce a homeowner's insurance premium. Flannery said that if a home is near a cistern, an average policy might be reduced by several hundred dollars annually. He said that homeowners may contact the Fire Department to verify whether this is the case and then discuss the matter with their insurance company.
Building Inspector Bob Koning forecast a typical year for Carlisle the town has averaged 22 new construction inspections per year for the last six years, except for last year's 10 new starts. The inspector's budget is one of the few to show a profit approximately $300,000 in fees against $93,000 in costs. FinCom member Thorton Ash indicated that while the FinCom was delighted to see the revenue, he wondered whether the town was allowed to charge fees in excess of costs. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie told the Committee that Koning's budget did not include the support costs buried in the town's general budget, and town Finance Director Larry Barton mentioned that state "53" type statues have requirements linking fees to costs, but that the inspectors' budget is not a revolving fund, and carries no such restrictions.
Other budget matters
Communications (dispatch), assessors, and general and town hall budgets were presented within either guideline or level service levels, and received without much comment by the committee.
© 2005 The