Fire budget OK’d

Feb 13, 2020 by

Published in the February 13, 2020 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — The $5,706,306 FY 2021 Fire Department budget received the blessing of the Town Council this week and will also be reviewed by the Finance Committee before it goes before the voters at Annual Town Meeting on May 4. 

Fire Chief Michael Sullivan was on hand at Monday’s meeting to answer questions and Doug Butler, chairman of the FinCom subcommittee on the Fire Department budget, was also at the meeting.

Town Accountant Kevin Gill reviewed the numbers and noted that the budget was up $93,446 over FY 2020, all of which was in personal services for negotiated contractual salary increases. No new positions have been added for next year, he said. He stressed that the union that represents the firefighters is still in negotiations with the town and once the new contract is settled, the personal services line item will be revisited.

The FY 2021 overtime budget request was $480,000, up $30,000 from this year. Members of the Town Council agreed that the higher amount currently budgeted for overtime more realistically reflects anticipated needs. 

Butler said that the Fire Department had gotten to the point where the overtime that is used to meet mandatory minimum manning levels is under control. He observed that Sullivan has done a good job of using available funds to cover shifts. It was noted that there will likely be a Reserve Fund transfer this year for overtime, but not at the level of previous years. Sullivan noted that the department had a lot of injuries in the first half of the current fiscal year, which impacted overtime.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that he was very happy with the Fire Department budget.

Councilor Jonathan Chines asked about progress in filling the newly created position of Deputy Fire Chief. 

Sullivan said that Civil Service will oversee an assessment process next month for prospective applicants for the position. He explained that the assessment consists of each applicant going before a panel of fire chiefs and responding to a set of problems posed to the applicant.

Sullivan said that the assessment will be conducted in late March and he expects to have the results within a couple of weeks after that. Current captains in the Wakefield Fire Department are eligible to apply, he said. No outside applicants will be considered. He assured the Town Council that the position of Deputy Chief would be filled by the start of FY 2021 on July 1, 2020.

Chines also questioned a $3,600 amount budgeted under “advertising.” He questioned whether this function could be handled by the town’s Communications Manager Jennifer McDonald.

Chief Sullivan said that he would fight to keep that line item in the budget as it is used to retain a specialized communications firm that the department uses to handle delicate and sensitive situations.

The Town Council vote to approve the Fire Department budget was unanimous.

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