Finance Committee Suggests Alternative Budget Recommendations
With five proposed cuts to positions in police and fire, the Finance Committee looks for alternatives
In lieu of five proposed cuts to Police and Fire departments that would help close a $1.75 million budget gap in Fiscal Year 2012, Finance Committee members are searching for ways to salvage some of Easton’s first responders.
“What we’re proposing is a couple of different savings in a couple of different departments,” Finance Committee Chair Kimberly Dubois told Selectmen Monday night.
Town Administrator David Colton said the Finance Committee’s proposals, which include cutting the hours of a proposed full-time clerical position in the collector and treasurer’s office and the elimination of a currently-vacant foreman’s position in the highway division of the Department of Public Works could potentially be hazardous for the operation of town and DPW business.
He said the foreman’s position at the DPW has been kept vacant with the expectation that it would be filled this year when another department member retired. Eliminating the foreman position would leave the highway department with two employees, he said.
Colton also said the clerk’s position in the treasurers office was restored to full time after an attempt to cut it to part-time previously.
“We tried to reduce one of them to part-time last year. It didn’t work. It created a back log,” he said. “It affected the accounting office, it affected the real estate office - it affected everybody.”
According to Dubois, cutting the foreman’s position would save $74 thousand a year and cutting the hours of the clerk would save approximately $12 thousand. Dubois also suggested finding savings in the employee benefits line item. However, cuts made on the school side are not reflected on the town side, “so those savings are not going to be realized as we had hoped,” she said in an email message.
“We did suggest that there is plenty of money within this line item to be considered savings as over the past few Fiscal Years there has been reversion into Free Cash (FY10 $400k/ $150K, and it goes back) which means more of a savings in this budget for this FY, and this will include the current FY rate increases,” she wrote.
Colton’s most recent budget memo includes the elimination of three firefighter positions and two police officer positions. All five eliminations are through attrition.
The proposed cuts in the fire department will mean the fire station on Depot Street would be closed for the duration of the summer, according to Fire Chief Tom Stone. Stone said that while the department will manage with what it has, the department is "not going to be able to provide the service the towns people are used to and, quite frankly, what they deserve."
"We’re probably looking at 50 percent of the time we’ll have a fire station closed," he said. "It really is a difficult situation. It’s going to be a challenge. We’ll manage this to the best of our ability. I can assure that no matter what the call is, we will get there."
Police Chief Allen Krajcik said he is looking for alternative savings and options. He said the department would not have to pull school resource officers from the school. The department will, however, begin to provide in-house training for its employees, he said.
Board of Selectmen Chair Colleen Corona said that while it is difficult to eliminate positions in public safety, officials also need to ensure that town business runs smoothly.
“I would do anything to be able to fund those positions,” she said. “But I would also be concerned about how things function here [at town offices].”
Dubois said that prior to any cuts being considered, Finance Committee members met with Krajcik and Stone who said they were both running at minimum staffing levels.
“This is five staffing cuts to Police and Fire - the Finance Committee feels we should be trying to keep these positions over others that are being suggested,” she said. “The cuts being suggested could fund at least two public safety positions. “
The budget proposed by Colton included approximately $600,000 worth of cuts to town departments and approximately $900,000 worth of cuts to the school department. The budget will be voted on at a May 16 Town meeting.