FARMINGTON — The Board of Selectmen will make its final recommendations on the proposed $5.4 million 2016 budget at a meeting Tuesday night, including scenarios for the fire department that could include adding new full-time positions.

Over the last month the selectmen and the budget committee have been reviewing proposed departmental budgets. Selectmen, whose meeting starts at 6:30 p.m., will make their final recommendations that will appear on the town warrant Farmington residents will vote on at the annual Town Meeting on March 28.

The proposed 2016 budget stands at $5,444,874, a 2 percent increase over the 2015 budget of $5,338,884. The proposed budget for the Farmington Fire and Rescue department has sparked the most discussion among selectmen during the budget review process.

At a Jan. 12 meeting, Chief Terry Bell urged the town to hire four full-time firefighters, saying it is the only way the department can continue to guarantee it has enough qualified firefighters to respond to calls.

He said that “people are just not coming through the door to join,” and that full-time firefighters “will be able to do everything and they will be guaranteed. This is their job.”

Town Manager Richard Davis is skeptical of hiring full-time staff for the fire department because of the additional cost, but didn’t have an alternative to what he called a statewide problem.

“I really don’t like having to do this, but it may be the only option,” Davis said Jan. 12. “We’re adding more cost obviously, more bureaucracy. It saddens me, but we may not have another choice.”

After proposing his initial $452,751 budget to the selectmen at a special Jan. 5 meeting, Bell was asked to present two additional budget scenarios and a status quo budget at the Jan. 12 selectmen’s meeting.

Bell’s initial 2016 budget proposal was a $51,238 increase over the department’s 2015 budget. That proposal included establishing four full-time firefighter positions to bolster the department’s declining roster of per-diem and on-call volunteer firefighters.

The department has no full-time firefighters except for Bell. If approved, the full-time positions would pay a range of $12.75 to $14 an hour, depending on experience. Those rates of pay are comparable to the per diem payments given to volunteer firefighters.

Bell said that over the previous year the department has seen a decline in new volunteer firefighters signing up to join the department, as the average age of the department’s roster is increasing with 53 years old being the median age among its 25 firefighters.

With four full-time firefighters, two full-time firefighters/EMTs would work a 12-hour shift, supplemented by one per diem or on-call firefighter working an eight-hour shift Monday through Friday. The full-time firefighters would work on an alternating basis of two days on and two days off, working a shorter eight-hour shift on Saturday and Sunday.

A second draft of the scenario of four full-timers totaling $440,675 included eight line items that Bell was able to reduce, including stipends, motor fuel, computer fees, insurance, personnel expenses, on-call firefighters’ wages and workers compensation.

Bell presented a scenario of three full-time firefighters with the same eight cuts that would total $432,978.

The status quo budget was also presented to selectmen, which included no additional staffing but with the same eight cuts, totaling $387,334, a $14,179 decrease from last year’s budget.

At the initial Jan. 5 review of the entire budget, the only change selectmen made to the proposal was adding $1,500 to the account for traffic light maintenance for a total of $10,000 — a $4,000 increase from last year’s budget.

Other increases in the proposed budget include $31,000 in municipal operations to pave the Town Office’s front parking lot, a one-time cost of $15,000 to digitize the town assessing records and a $13,000 increase in electricity costs for the town’s streetlights.

The Budget Committee will be meeting Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. to make their final recommendations on the budget. Once both selectmen and budget committee members submit their recommendations, Davis will draft a town warrant for the budget that residents will vote on March 28. The warrant will include the selectmen’s recommendations, the budget committee’s recommendations, and the initial proposals made by each department head.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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