MEREDITH — At a workshop yesterday, the Board of Selectmen approved a pay raise for "call" firefighters that will narrow the disparities between their compensation and that of their counterparts in neighboring towns and their colleagues in other departments.
So-called "call" firefighters are essentially trained volunteers who get paid an hourly wage when, and only when, they respond to a alarm.
Meredith has only one full-time salaried firefighter, Chief Ken Jones.
Jones broached the issue last October in the course of preparing the 2014 town budget, stressing that the retention and recruitment of employees was an increasing challenge. An appropriation of $115,000 for a wage adjustment was included in the budget in anticipation of approving the new pay scale.
Town Manager Phil Warren cautioned that comparisons with other towns are difficult because departments have different responsibilities and operations. However, compared to a peer group of 11 other fire departments (Ashland, Barnstead, Belmont, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton-Thornton, Center Harbor, Hebron, Holderness, Moultonborough and New Hampton) the current hourly wage in Meredith is between 18.4 percent and 43.7 percent below the median depending on the rank.
The current rates are for trainees $7.49, for firefighter-1, 2 and 3 $9.29, for lieutenant $10.33, for captain and second deputy $11.36 and for first deputy $13.42. The new rates will be $9 for trainees, $11.50 for fighter-1, $12.50 for firefighter-2, $13 for firefighter-3, $14 for lieutenant, $16 for captain, $17 for second deputy and $18 for first deputy. The increases range from 20.2 percent for trainees to 49.6 percent for the first deputy.
With the increase, hourly wages will be between 2.7 percent and 10.5 percent above the median of the peer group with the exception of the rate for trainees and lieutenants, which will fall 5.7 percent and 1.5 percent below the median.
With the staffing plan Jones has proposed, the cost of the increases are projected at $ 108,000, within the amount budgeted.
"This has been brewing for several years," said Selectman Peter Brothers in support of the plan. "Our interest is to retain our call fire fire department structure," he remarked, adding that full-time, professional personnel would cost between $950,000 and $1 million a year. He said that the current pay scale left volunteers asking "do I work for $12 or $15 an hour or do I drop my tool belt and answer the call for $9.50?"