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Funds OK'd to keep Manchester fire station open

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 29. 2017 9:04PM
Manchester Fire Station 9 on Calef Road will stay open under a funding plan approved Thursday by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — City aldermen voted Thursday night to give Fire Chief Dan Goonan money needed to cover a departmental budget deficit and prevent the closure of Station 9 — at least for a few months.

“This is a Band-Aid,” said Goonan. “I appreciate what the aldermen did tonight — but this is a Band-Aid.”

Earlier this week Goonan announced plans to close Station 9, located at 575 Calef Road in Ward 9, effective this weekend. He also proposed reducing staff from four to three per shift at Station 2 on South Main Street, in an effort to close a nearly $49,000 gap between his original budget request of $19,781,502, and the $19,732,544 his department was appropriated by city aldermen when they approved the fiscal year 2018 budget on June 13.

That budget also contained no funding for severance pay, which Goonan says ups his department’s deficit to nearly $239,000 following three anticipated retirements on July 31.

Mayor Ted Gatsas met with Goonan Wednesday, and together they brought forth a request at Thursday’s special session to use money from the city’s contingency fund to cover the severance pay deficit in his budget.

Board members were asked to send the fire department an additional $138,374 in contingency funds to cover severance costs “to maintain current levels of service, and keep all stations open.”

“If we were to be reimbursed for these expenses, it would eliminate the need to close the station,” explained Goonan in a letter to city aldermen. “I am still concerned that any upcoming or unexpected retirements would result in further severance costs that I cannot cover. I would appreciate the board considering my concerns and assuring me that funding for any future severance costs would be available if needed.”

“This has nothing to do with politics,” Goonan told aldermen Thursday. “I want not only what’s safest for my firefighters, but what’s safest for the community. This is something I never thought I would have to do.”

“I think we pay these guys good money to run their departments,” said Alderman At Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur. “I think we’re jumping the gun. I don’t know why we can’t wait until August and see what the revenues are going to be.”

Aldermen asked Goonan if he felt closing Station 9 presented a safety issue.

“I can guarantee it’s a safety issue,” said Goonan. “It you were living in the South End, and instead of getting there in four minutes we are getting there in 10 minutes ... I’ve lost sleep over this. I’m trying to deal with the budgetary card I’ve been dealt. There are going to be longer response times on the South End.”

Aldermen voted unanimously to move $138,000 from the city’s contingency fund into to fiscal year 2018 fire department budget. Aldermen also voted unanimously to move $250,000 from the city’s fiscal year surplus to the severance reserve account.

Several aldermen warned that other departments will likely come calling, looking for additional funds to cover severance pay as retirements roll in.

“Everyone knew 10 days ago we would be here today,” said Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig. “This is baloney. Department heads need money to manage their departments effectively. We’re gonna meet every Thursday to talk to who’s coming in next. I’m sick of it — let’s put the amount of money in the budget that’s necessary.”

The Fire Department noted the closing's halting on Twitter, saying, "Station 9 will stay open! We are all thankful a solution could be found."

Aldermen expect to have a discussion on severance funding at their next full board meeting, planned for July 18.

Public Safety Local and County Government Manchester

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