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Manchester fire station closing prompts new plan

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 28. 2017 10:03PM
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and Fire Chief Dan Goonan plan to bring forth a joint request at a special meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen today. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has scheduled a special meeting this afternoon to discuss plans announced Tuesday by city Fire Chief Dan Goonan to close one fire station and reduce manpower at another due to budget concerns.

The special meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m., will be held at the offices of the Manchester Health Department in the Carol Rines Center at 1528 Elm St. because of renovation work under way at the Aldermanic Chambers in City Hall.

Goonan announced Tuesday he plans to close Station 9, located at 575 Calef Road in Ward 9, effective this Saturday. He is also reducing staffing — 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 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 said fire officials will have a conversation with city aldermen about the city’s contingency fund, over what money they plan to hold for contingency and severance pay.

“I don’t support closing stations or brownouts or anything else,” said Gatsas. “We are going to do everything in our power to prevent this closing.”

Gatsas said he met with Goonan on Wednesday, and they plan to bring forth a joint request at today’s special meeting to use money from the city’s contingency fund to cover the severance pay deficit in his budget.

“We are on the same page,” said Gatsas. “This is doable. Now it’s up to the board.”

In a letter sent to city aldermen Wednesday, Gatsas asks board members to approve sending 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,” writes Goonan in the letter. “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.”

Three people dropped by Station 9 Wednesday afternoon to show their appreciation and let firefighters know that they opposed the firehouse being shut down.

Drivers of some cars passing by tooted their horns to show support, while others in vehicles gave the firefighters two thumbs up.

Closing the station is a temporary measure, according to Goonan, who said it is a way to cover vacations without running up overtime. He believes the fire department has the community’s support, though there are detractors on social media.

“This whole thing, in my opinion, could have been handled in a less sensational process,” said Ward Alderman Barbara Shaw. “My constituents were alarmed and devastated by this announcement — why? Couldn’t an emergency meeting of the board have been called first to see if a solution was possible? That’s called process — an emergency meeting because we have a problem.”

A fire station has been in that part of the city since 1884, with the original built near Queen City Avenue and Elm Street. Called the Bakersville Firehouse, it housed only a horse-drawn hose carriage.

In 1963, the commercial expansion of South Willow Street was underway and plans for extending Queen City Avenue meant the razing of the Bakersville firehouse. A new station was built farther south, Station 9 at 575 Calef Road. Its coverage area includes the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, manufacturing and industrial facilities, and private homes.

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