Friday, November 27, 2009
FinCom told 10% cuts would mean lay-offs, reduced services
Every town department has been asked to go through the exercise of identifying ways to reduce operating expenses by 10% for the next fiscal year and at the November 18 Finance Committee (FinCom) meeting heard how such deep cuts would affect the Public Works, Fire, Police and Safety Communications Departments.
DPW would cut staff, defer maintenance
Superintendent of Public Works Gary Davis spoke to FinCom first. The total Department of Public Works (DPW) budget for FY10 is $1,056,711. In order to make a 10% reduction, Davis would have to eliminate two employees from an existing staff of ten full-time employees, reduce funding for tree and road maintenance, eliminate nearly all road-side mowing, and cut many small maintenance projects. These cuts would total $104,271, or 9.9% of the FY10 budget. There was some discussion of closing the Transfer Station on Thursdays (the slowest day), but the cost savings in doing so would be minimal.
The impact of these reductions would be that everything DPW does would take longer and some maintenance would have to be deferred, with the possibility that minor maintenance may later develop into major repair work. The highest priority would be given to any work associated with safety issues (such as snow removal) and the lowest priority would be assigned to building maintenance, cemetery upkeep and care of other public grounds.
Fire Department would cut stipends, training, heat
Presenting next was Fire Chief David Flannery. The FY10 budget for the Fire Department (including ambulance) is $270,534, of which 89% is allocated for wages. Flannery noted that any reduction in wages would be detrimental to the morale of the firefighters and EMTs, who are currently paid an hourly wage for the time they are called upon and not a regular salary. Therefore, the $27,000 budget reduction would have to be taken from training, electricity, heat, or ambulance wages. Flannery considers the Carlisle all-call department an extreme value for the town. As a point of comparison, he noted that the town of Lincoln had a budget of $1.4 million in FY09, with a full time chief and around-the-clock staffing.
In order to make a 10% budget cut for FY11, Flannery could cut firefighter stipends back to FY09 levels, but feels this would send the wrong message to the all-call staff. There is some possibility that the budget shortfall could be made up by an increase in revenue if Carlisle adopts the new Advanced Life Support (ALS) program (see “Option for town’s Advance Life Support Services takes shape,” Mosquito, November 6). That would increase payment the town receives from Medicaid for ambulance services.
Dispatchers would cut one full-time position
Next to address FinCom was Police Chief John Sullivan who presented on behalf of the Public Safety Communications Department, which is headed jointly by the police and fire chiefs. The Communications Department is responsible for dispatching all calls to Carlisle Police, Fire, Ambulance and DPW, 24/7 and the budget in FY10 is $275,129, most of which goes towards paying wages for five full-time dispatchers who each work five shifts per week.
One way to achieve a 10% budget reduction for FY2011 would be to eliminate the Flex Dispatcher position. However, this would result in one open shift per week. The town would be required to pay overtime when remaining dispatchers work the open shift, or cover each other’s vacation and sick days. When this dispatching schedule was used in recent years, it resulted in annual budget over-runs. It was also noted that a smaller staff created a potential safety issue in the scenario that one dispatcher is forced into serving additional consecutive shifts when another dispatcher calls in sick.
Head Dispatcher Michael Taplin was able to identify $8,500 in cost savings by scaling back teletype maintenance, education and telephone funds, and spending less on office supplies, bringing the budget down by 3%. The FinCom staff asked for Communications to consider having three shifts for seven days per week and to determine these cost savings and safety implications.
Police would cut staff, leaving uncovered shifts
Sullivan then proceeded to outline possible cuts to the Police operating budget. The total Police budget for FY10 is $1,160,448. Reducing electricity bills, cruiser repairs, education funding, holiday details, and membership dues in North East Municipal Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), would only total $13,000. In order to reduce significant spending for FY11, Sullivan would have to cut staff, taking three officers off the schedule. This would cut out 15 shifts and leave five midnight shifts uncovered. Sullivan noted that with the economy down, crime is up. Carlisle Police respond to calls within three minutes (as opposed to the 30-45 minute response time of State police). They are also the first responders to medical calls, often arriving minutes ahead of the fire department.
An alternative suggested as a way to cut budgets is a one-day furlough for all town employees, including school staff. However, FinCom Chair David Guarino later cautioned that while a furlough might appear to offer cost savings, it was not clear if this idea would be feasible under current employment contracts.
Some members noted that the fiscal challenges facing Carlisle are not only about FY11. A proposed building project for the Carlisle School may add $500 to $1,000 to the average property tax bill for the next 20 years. The Concord-Carlisle Regional High School Department heads are being asked to think creatively about the way Carlisle runs town business, because small changes, and even holding down spending level for the next two to three years will result in appreciable future savings. ∆
© 2009 The