Published DateSANBORNTON – The Budget Committee held its public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget of $3,770,037 last night and about 30 people crammed into the meeting room of the town offices for the occasion.
Driven in part by a 2 1/2 percent across the board salary increase for all employees, the Budget Committee's recommended budget is $14,400 less than the Selectboard's recommended budget with the bulk of the difference coming from the two board's differences in Fire Department per diem numbers.
With the two boards agreeing on the majority of the spending plan, the substance of last night's public hearing was the differences between what was recommended by the boards and what was originally requested by department heads.
Speaking on behalf of the Fire Department, Chief Paul Dexter said he would like to add $10,000 more for per diem firefighters to the daytime response team. He said he stayed within the parameters of the 2 1/2 percent increase but shifted some of his resources from preventive maintenance to additional firefighter-EMT hours during the week.
Including himself, Dexter said he currently has three people in the station on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and two in the station Thursday, Friday and Saturday. His goal is to add one person to daytime shifts for each weekday.
He said the third firefighter can perform much of the preventative maintenance that he now sends out to repair shops and well as freeing him to be the incident commander for a call.
He also said an additional person on those two shifts would allow a better response to motor vehicle accidents because he would be able to send an ambulance and an engine. As it stands now, on the two-person days both he and the firefighter take the engine because it has the extrication device and they often call mutual aid for the actual transfer to the hospital.
Budget Committee member Jeff Jenkins said this year was not the year to expand any department.
"It's a growth to manpower," he said expressing his objection to Dexter's request. "You're growing your department and I'm not comfortable until we hear from the public."
Those who spoke to support the Fire Department request were primarily members of the department. Also supporting the request was resident Bill Whalen.
The Police Department wanted an average of an eight percent salary raise for its members.
Chief Steve Hankard said the department is running as efficiently as it ever has but he is likely loosing his senior patrol officer to a different department that has offered him more money.
He initially asked the selectmen for an additional $10,000 but last night said he would like $19,879 more.
Hankard told the public that his problem was "nothing new" but said he has to invest about $35,000 in hiring and training a new officer and would rather spend money to retain the ones he has. He also said that if his senior officer leaves, he'll be paid $9,000 in vacation and earned time.
All police officers in the state, he explained, go through the same accreditation. Coupled with what he said was Sanbornton's good reputation in police circles, he said other communities are always pirating his officers, tempting them with as much as $4,000 more annually.
"If a police officer moves for less than $1,000 or $2,000 a year, then it's more than just money," he explained.
Speaking for the police department from the public was Sgt. Justin Howe, who is also a resident. He said the pay difference between Tilton and Sanbornton, for example, for a comparable senior patrol officer is Sanbornton's $39,000 annually to Tilton's $50,000 annually.
He said officers with the same amount of time earn about a $6,000 annual difference.
Hankard said he wasn't trying to pay the same as officers in bigger departments, but only to make his department more equitable with other area departments.
Budget Committee Chair Earl Leighton said the budget was prepared with a 2 1/2 percent raise for everyone and it would not be fair to the other departments to single out one department for special treatment.
Members of the public suggested contracts to keep officers in place or conditional money for longevity but Hankard said he didn't think it was legal to do that.
Budget Committee member Judy Burlingame said Hankard's revised request should also go back before the selectmen for reconsideration.