FARMINGTON — In their final recommendations on the 2016 proposed town budget, the Board of Selectmen rejected recommending adding funding for any full-time firefighters to the Fire and Rescue Department.

At their meeting Tuesday night, selectmen made their final recommendations on all of the proposed 2016 departmental budgets, which totaled $5.4 million, a 2 percent increase from the 2015 budget. Their recommendations, the recommendations made Wednesday by the Budget Committee and the recommendations of the department heads will appear on the town warrant for residents to vote on at Town Meeting on March 28.

The selectmen recommended a 2016 fire and rescue budget of $401,513, a zero percent change from 2015, but including $14,179 for the department to contact an outside consultant to look at how the department could address staffing issues.

“I think at this point, for myself, before we open this door, we want to do some research on it,” Selectman Matthew Smith said. “(Full-time firefighters) could, over time, become something that we might not be able to afford.”

The recommendation to reject Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell’s proposed $434,492 budget, which includes adding four full-time firefighters to the department to make up for the declining number of volunteers on the roster, came after two meetings at which selectmen debated several budget scenarios provided by Bell.

At the selectmen’s initial review of the entire proposed 2016 budget on Jan. 5, Bell presented his initial $452,751 2016 proposal, which was a $51,238 increase over last year’s budget.

Bell said establishing the four full-time positions would have helped guarantee that the department, made up now of on-call and per-diem firefighters, could respond to increasing fire calls with enough qualified firefighters.

Selectmen asked Bell to present alternate staffing scenarios at the Jan. 12 meeting that would cost less than his initial proposal.

Those included a second draft of the four full-time firefighters scenario totaling $440,675, which included eight line-item cuts that Bell was able to make, 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. He also presented a status quo budget that added no additional staffing but with the same eight cuts totaling $387,334, a $14,179 decrease from last year’s budget.

The $434,492 budget total rejected by selectmen at Tuesday’s meeting was reduced on the same eight budget lines by Bell after the Jan. 12 meeting.

Following the recommendation to stay with last year’s budget but use funding to bring in a consultant to help assess how the department’s staffing problems could be remedied, Bell urged that the town needs to consider what the consultant suggests, even if that means adding full-time staff members in future budgets.

“If we do this, we really need to take it under the advisement of whoever does the study for (the town) to do,” Bell said.

Selectman Stephan Bunker abstained from the vote because he is a Fire Department member, but he reminded the others that Bell’s $434,492 request including the addition of four full-time firefighters will appear alongside the recommendations of the selectmen and the Budget Committee for residents to vote on at the Town Meeting.

“Taxpayers need to realize it’s fewer (firefighters) with a greater number of calls,” Bunker said.

Selectmen’s recommended increases in the proposed budget include $9,369 in municipal operations to pave the Town Office’s front parking lot and add heat pumps to a few offices, a one-time cost of $15,000 to digitize town assessing records, a $15,500 increase in electricity costs for the town’s streetlights and a $4,000 increase in the account for traffic light maintenance.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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