First responders’ budgets face hikes due to work laws

Feb 13, 2020

MARION — A new town personnel policy and national labor safety laws that came into effect in the last year will cause increases in the Fire and Police department budgets for Fiscal Year 2021.

That’s what the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee members found when they gathered Feb. 12 to review the budgets for the Police Department, Fire Department. 

In the Police Department, the overall budget increased just 0.21% to about $2,000,000. Education and training for officers increased 27% since last year and that and new classifications for two employees caused much of the budget increase. Police Academy takes months and costs $3 to 4,000, and other officers must complete at least 56 hours of training.

Police Chief John Garcia explained that he has 15 full-time officers and 5 part-time officers. He is currently looking to fill two openings in the department and anticipates two openings within the next year.

Finance Committee members asked if that was a lot of officers for a town of Marion’s size.

Garcia explained that the department usually tries to have one person on the desk and two on the road for each of the three shifts.

Shay Assad noted that the budget for a School Resource Officer had dropped from $24,000 to $0 and asked if there was a school resource officer at Sippican School.

Garcia responded that the department currently has “no full-time officer. We just don’t have the people. We would have to hire someone full-time.”

Instead, Garcia said his officers have tried to have more of a presence during recess and lunch, and that officers have noticed that the kids have gone from looking nervous around the police to much more comfortable.

“They don’t know if we’re going in for a problem or to give out high fives and pencils,” Garcia said, of the students.

Committee Chair Peter Winters asked if the department planned for a reduction in overtime use.

Garcia responded that with two officers gone, his department is leaning heavily on overtime and special officers.

Committee members asked how many cars the department has and whether it trades them in.

The chief answered that he has nine cars, which are declared as surplus and handled by the town when they are no longer needed.

New Marion employee classifications also increase the salaries for the Animal Control Officer (by 18.38%) and the department’s administrative assistant (by 3.12%).

The department is also testing a new communications system for more reliable connections in storms (a 17.77% price increase over last year) and found that its new cruisers are 3 to 4 inches wider that expected, need to be re-outfitted for equipment. Police are also looking into a hybrid cruiser (8.04% of the budget).

In the Fire Department, general expenses remain stable but the town’s new personnel policy and a desire to remain competitive drive a requested 7.64% budget increase, leaving the budget at $1,182,849. 

The department’s biggest request is for one additional full-time lieutenant and fire inspector (since the department does building inspections). This would cause a 125% increase in that line item over last year’s budget.

Chief Brian Jackvony said that the department is made of two full-time members, 24 part-time Emergency Medical Services members, 48 on-call part-time firefighters and 16 part-time paramedics.

He explained that he devotes a considerable effort to maintaining schedules to keep on-call members at less than 20 hours/week (the amount that would require a pension and healthcare).

The department’s call volume has soared from 512 calls in 2009 to 1,248 calls in 2019. Of these, the town had 810 medical calls and 438 calls for fire-related incidents.

An increase in overlapping calls and requests for help from other towns also takes away from the town’s revenue from medical calls by 1.98%.

Jackvony said this year the department found itself at “a catch 22 situation with the schedule.” It  lost 13 members, and hired 5.

The chief realized that he was overrelying on members who had retired from day jobs because they were more available. However, research shows that older members are more susceptible to health-related complications.

The chief explained that the town “saw a tragic effect” there last year with the death of firefighter Thomas Nye, who passed away at the age of 72 the day after helping with a fire.

New federal requirements also say that departments must assemble four firefighters to begin fighting a fire. Having another full-time member would also help with this.

The good news is that Jackvony realized the department may be able to raise revenue on ambulance calls, which decreased in cost 1.98% from last year. This is because he realized the department charges significantly less than area peers.