By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard discussed the General Operating Budget and approved budgets for both the water and sewer enterprise funds at its meeting on Monday, 3/25.
About 12 members of the Fire Department showed up to show support for adding two full time firefighter/paramedic positions requested by Chief Timothy Francis and Deputy Chief Todd Correia. Town Administrator Mark Rees’s budget recommendation, however, did not include the two new positions.
Selectboard member Charles Murphy suggested opening up discussion on the item.
Chief Francis reiterated to the board that the ambulance service was generating more than $1 million to town receipts. He said the service is getting busier and busier and he simply does not have the personnel to keep all the ambulances going and keep the station staffed.
The building has been completely empty more often, which scares him, he said. He also said he is dealing with disgruntled employees because of the overtime and workload.
There is no time for training, he said. In addition, he is looking at a number of retirements coming soon.
“We’re burning people out, is what we’re doing,” said Chief Francis.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola cautioned against using free cash for ongoing expenses.
Chief Francis said he expects revenues from the ambulance service to keep going up.
Mr. Espindola asked if they could hire for half the year, to minimize the impact. Mr. Rees said that the use of free cash is a policy and is “not etched in stone.”
He said they can make an exception, saying he did not think it was “overly risky” for the town.
Mr. Espindola said he wanted to make sure the ambulance receipts stayed high and said he would support the added personnel if they promised, at least through attrition, that they will not keep the positions if receipts go down.
“You will have that opportunity,” said Chief Francis, noting that they were looking at a lot of attrition with veteran firefighters retiring soon.
Mr. Espindola said as long as the department would recognize it when the need was not there, he would support it.
Selectboard chairperson Daniel Freitas, whose brother is a firefighter/ paramedic, said he got cleared by the state ethics office to speak and vote on the matter. He said he supported the change so that Fairhaven is not turning away ambulance runs. He began to make a remark about how the town just gave away big raises, causing a stir between him and Mr. Rees for a few seconds.
“This is a need,” said Mr. Freitas. “It’s scary.”
He noted that he was on site for a fire at McCormack Manor and that a firefighter was there by herself for a few minutes.
“That’s scary,” he said, noting that just a few minutes can make a big difference in a fire. “I can’t find a reason to say ‘no.’”
The board voted to add $125,000 to the Fire Department budget.
The budget documents are available at https://www.fairhaven-ma.gov/town-administrator/pages/budget-information
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