LACONIA — In the course of approving a new municipal budget Monday night, the City Council cut about $150,000 from the Fire Department spending plan and altered firefighter staffing procedures in a bid to reduce overtime.
The money that was cut is to be used to help fund a police resource officer for the middle school and to pay for park irrigation.
The reduction was approved by a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Andrew Hosmer in opposition.
“I think there are some real challenges associated with the Fire Department budget, but I think they’ve made a credible case in some instances about the challenges they are facing as first responders and I think we should be more attentive to that than to irrigating our fields,” Hosmer said.
An earlier proposal called for cutting $300,000 from the budget of the Fire Department, which incurs more than $500,000 in yearly overtime costs.
The $150,000 in savings is to be gained from reducing overtime, which is to be accomplished through a change in staffing procedures. The council approved a policy that only eight firefighters need be on duty at any given time. Previously an extra firefighter was sometimes brought in when someone was absent and platoon strength fell below nine.
The council reached consensus on the cut two weeks ago.
Mayor Ed Engler said at the time that for over a decade city leaders have tried to find ways to reduce fire department overtime.
“What is concerning is that the bottom line seems to be protecting overtime at all other costs,” he said. “Twice in the last three years, I have floated proposals to add personnel to the fire department because I thought we could easily take that money out of the overtime budget and make it come out a plus on the bottom line. And neither time did that gain any traction whatever.”
The Fire Department’s overall budget for the new fiscal year is $5.6 million.
A 2017 earnings report shows that 11 firefighters each earned more than $20,000 in overtime for the year. Another seven earned at least $15,000 in overtime. With overtime, two lieutenants and two captains are earning more than $90,000 a year in W2 wages.
The Fire Department budget cut came on a night when the City Council approved an overall spending plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which began July 1 and runs through June 2019.
The total city appropriation increased about 1 percent, to $25.8 million, and the school appropriation grew by about 3 percent, to about $40 million.
The Police Department’s budget is $5.8 million, with $125,000 set aside for overtime.
The Public Works budget is $2.6 million.