Gardiner elected officials endorsed a proposal from city department heads to shave about $163,000 of spending and reduce use of the fund balance in the budget proposal they are now considering.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, they also agreed to a proposal to delay hiring some firefighters as they wait to see whether federal grant funds can help pay for some of the costs of the additional staff, bringing the proposed cuts to spending to about $256,000.

A week ago, after hearing the details of the proposed $6.6 million budget, elected officials said they wanted to see lower spending and less use of the fund balance to meet the city’s needs for the coming year to minimize the impact on taxpayers.

The proposal presented Wednesday also cut use of the fund balance from $500,000 to $250,000.

City Manager Christine Landes said cuts were made to training and travel accounts, hardware and salaries. Some purchases or spending decisions were pushed off for at least a year, including hose replacement for the fire department, a lease for a police vehicle and city-approved and funded improvements to the bridge replacement project.

Among the identified cuts was $1,000 for Narcan, the emergency treatment for opioid overdoses.

Gardiner police Chief James Toman said the city is expecting to receive Narcan for free until the end of the year from the state Attorney General’s Office, as has been the practice, but he’s not sure what will happen next year yet.

In supporting the proposal to add one firefighter in the upcoming budget, city officials leave open the door to accepting the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant if it’s awarded to Gardiner later this year.

Because the grant only pays the costs of hiring new firefighters, city officials ran the risk of losing out on the money if they hired staff sooner.

District 2 City Councilor Amy Rees said she had spent some time learning about the fire department and its staffing from Chief Al Nelson.

“For three years, the department has been understaffed,” Rees said.

That has saved taxpayers money, but it has done so at considerable risk that someone with a life-threatening problem will call the fire department only to find that firefighters are answering other calls, and have to wait for mutual aid.

“I think it’s time to step up and do the right thing,” Rees said.

And in the event that the city is not awarded federal money, she said she was giving her personal promise to support finding the funding to add the additional staff to the fire department.

In their discussions of cuts, city councilors rejected scaling back by 10% contributions to the nonprofit organizations they donate to annually, including Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, Gardiner Main Street and Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley.

Gardiner’s proposed budget is now scheduled to go to a public hearing and first read on June 10 and public hearing and probable second and final read on June 24.

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