CHESTER – Major budget proposals under the purview of the police and fire departments were reviewed last week in a joint meeting with the board of selectmen and budget committee.
That meeting, on Thursday, Jan. 21, was the first time the budgets were reviewed by the groups, and while traditionally the selectmen will review the budgets and then send their recommendations to the budget committee for its review, the two groups agreed to meet together in an effort to streamline the process.
The big numbers reviewed were the police and fire budgets, but each of these departments has one or more smaller budgets under its control as well.
The fire department’s budget has a relatively large percentage increase in its proposal this year and saw the more in-depth review.
Questions from the selectmen and committee spanned the gamut from energy costs to radios to outfitting to warrant articles that the department may float.
The bottom line fire proposal going into the meeting totaled $292,049, an 8.4 percent increase, but the selectmen agreed to one major increase to that number.
EMS (emergency medical service) supplies and equipment, going from $4,000 to $8,000, was discussed – a sum that fire chief Rich Antoine said was reduced in the current year’s budget but which remained as a needed expense – as well as the 100 percent increase in outfitting, from $6,000 to $12,000. The former is for needed supplies for the ambulance, much of which is covered by transport fees, the latter the result of outdated firefighting outfits.
Fire Capt. Greg Bolduc explained that National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines want gear to be updated at least every 10 years, but the department has 18 sets of gear that are older than that, the oldest going back to 1998.
Bolduc noted that not only does the department not have equipment for trainees to use at Fire Academy, but when it needs to be cleaned, there aren’t spares.
A set of turnout gear costs more than $2,000, and the department is looking to update its inventory in coming years.
Additional funds are included to also update EMS uniforms.
Budget committee members sought additional information about many of the lines, and chair Mike Weider, throughout the meeting, pointed out costs that he thought would be better incorporated into the town’s planning tool, the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), something voters agreed to fund at last town meeting.
The fire proposal ended up seeing a $14,000 increase when selectmen agreed a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) device initially proposed for a warrant article was important enough to put into the budget.
The department was looking at including this device and new defibrillators – a cost of $62,000 – in warrant articles this year.
Selectmen noted concern with including lifesaving equipment in warrant articles. Selectman Jack Cannon said he was not comfortable leaving such equipment to the whim of voters.
On a suggestion by Weider, selectmen indicated approval of asking voters to pull money out of the CIP fund for the defibrillators.
The CPR device, explained the department’s Mike Gilbert, will administer mechanical compressions to heart patients. Gilbert noted that chest compressions are crucial to the survival of heart attack victims and the machine gives constant compressions at the correct rate and depth, and eliminates human error.
While selectman Joe Castricone said the machine shouldn’t be Chester’s problem but Derry’s instead – Derry provides contracted ambulance service to Chester, selectman chair Steph Landau questioned that wisdom. The equipment is something that could save a life, and as someone who has needed such services in the past, he said he understood it was a small cost to save a life.
“I want to see my grandkids get married,” said Landau. “That’s a necessity.”
The board did not formally approve this budget, instead waiting for an updated bottom line from finance director Joanne Smith after it was agreed to add in the CPR machine.
The police department’s budget proposal saw a quicker review, but while coming in higher than the current year, that cost is attributed to a single line.
This bottom line proposal comes in with a 6.55 percent increase at $581,566, attributable to a request for a part-time detective position at a cost of $39,000.
Without that position the proposal would see a reduction over current year expenses. Reductions are seen in the chief’s salary and full-time salaries. An increase has been included in the part-time line, from $43,459 to $52,000.
Chief Aaron Berube explained that he has a person in mind for the detective role, and as the position is part time and the person is retired, the cost for the role would be limited to wages.
This position would handle many of the duties that Berube was taking care of prior to his move to chief late last year. The department doesn’t have certified detectives in a variety of areas, said Berube.
The department is also looking for an increase in the animal control budget, to handle animal-specific duties that currently take officers off the road.
The town handles an average of 260 animal control-related service calls a year, said Berube, in addition to about 75 unlicensed dogs whose owners need to be forced to license them per state law. Each of those unregistered canines can take up to an hour of officer time, said the chief.
And while officers can be taken off the road to handle animal-related calls, there are instances where outside agencies have to be called in or the work will not be done. Berube pointed to a recent drunk driving accident that saw a dog ejected from a vehicle and subsequently dragged down the road. Sandown’s animal control officer was called in to handle the issue.
Because of the particulars of that accident, without that support from Sandown the dog would have had to be left on the side of the road while other concerns were dealt with, said Berube. The chief is looking for a part timer to be on call for such issues to take that burden off regular patrols and police work.
Berube said the $2,500 cost was a baseline to establish the position, but he would look to expand it next year if it were seen to benefit the community.
This cost can be potentially offset by dog licensing fees.
Weider sought more information about the scope of the position and whether the town would be responsible for any animal care as a result of the position. The town would transport animals elsewhere for care and boarding, responded Berube.
The police and animal control budgets were approved unanimously by the selectmen and will see further review by the budget committee in coming weeks.