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Merrimack asking for four additional firefighters

Union Leader Correspondent

December 26. 2016 9:15PM

MERRIMACK — After five years of requesting additional firefighters, the town manager has agreed to place extra funding into her proposed budget for more fire personnel.

“We have growth in the community, and increased medical calls,” Fire Chief Michael Currier said on Tuesday.

Merrimack Fire Rescue previously had 36 full-time firefighters, although four of those positions were cut in 2011. “I have a huge amount of hours to fill,” said Currier.

He said significant development in town in the past five years has added to the department’s call volume, and cited the Raymond Wieczorek Drive/Manchester Airport Access Road and Merrimack Premium Outlets.

Last year, Currier requested that four additional firefighters be added to the payroll, but town officials ultimately decided to add $97,000 to the fire department budget for overtime costs rather than hiring more firefighters.

This year, Town Manager Eileen Cabanel is proposing in her recommended 2017-2018 fiscal year budget that four new firefighters be added, but not until January 2018. There is a total of $187,000 proposed in her budget — $175,000 for six months of wages and benefits, and $12,000 for uniforms — for new fire department personnel.

“That is a big increase in the budget,” Cabanel said, noting she has met with fire department members and believes the need is apparent for more firefighters.

Cabanel told the town council last week that she is not prepared to hire the four new firefighters for the entire year, as that could potentially increase the tax rate by 35 cents compared to 25 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

This would also give time for the recruitment and testing process to be completed so that the new firefighters could begin on Jan. 1, 2018, explained Paul Micali, assistant town manager and finance director. He said there is the potential for grants to help with the financing.

Those four positions, if approved, would also stay on the payroll for the full 2018-2019 budget, added Cabanel.

Currier is hoping to have nine firefighters assigned to each shift. With vacation time and sick days, he said this would ensure that at least eight firefighters would be working at all times.

The chief will be meeting with the town council next month to provide more data on the department’s existing call volume and staffing levels.

Cabanel’s recommended budget of $34,663,938 includes nearly $2 million in capital reserve fund expenditures, $6 million in self-supporting fund appropriations and about $1.4 million in state and federal grants.

The general fund budget of nearly $25.3 million is about a 2.7 percent increase over the current general fund budget of $24.6 million.

Some of the increases include $109,000 more for health insurance costs, $168,000 more for retirement costs and contractual raises for five unions totaling a $160,000 increase, according to Cabanel.

If her proposed spending plan is approved, local property owners with an average home assessed at $260,000 would see an increase of $65 a year on the town portion of their tax bill. The municipal portion of the tax rate, if approved, would increase by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

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