November 16, 2011After much discussion, budget committee members approved a 17th full-time police officer at their meeting Thursday, Nov. 10, with a motion that barely passed, six in favor, five opposed.
Originally, Kevin Roy, who headed up the sub-committee for the police budget, proposed adding $75,000 for one additional police officer's salary, but since Police Chief Kevin Keenan could not hire the new officer until residents vote on the entire budget, Fred Butler, Gunstock Acres Water District representative, suggested that a pro-rated salary would only be about $57,000.
According to Keenan, the additional officer is necessary for the department to function correctly.
"I need the officer today," confirmed Keenan, as service calls have increased more than usual.
According to selectmen's representative Gus Benavides, Gilford's Selectmen have always supported maintaining 17 full-time police officers, but to keep a balanced budget, they struggled with the decision of whether or not to fill the 17th spot after former Chief John Markland resigned.
"It's an extremely difficult decision," said Benavides. "I'm not disagreeing with [Keenan]. Selectmen struggled with this difficult decision. The need is there."
According to Markland, a municipal services evaluation of the police department in 2004 stated that the Gilford Police Department needed at least 17 officers to provide sufficient services to the town. Since 2004, calls have steadily increased.
According to Keenan, his officers average about two arrests a day in addition to their regular service calls and patrol duties.
Keenan added that he has called upon his two School Resource Officers (SRO's), who are already busy with specialized duties involving the school and calls involving juveniles to respond to additional calls and regular patrol duties to relieve officers and keep overtime hours at a reasonable level.
Keenan said, at the previous meeting, that without a 17th officer, the overtime line, which is already calculated for 17 officers, would definitely be over-spent.
After much more discussion, the 11-member budget committee was split when the motion to add about $57,000 to the police department budget passed by a vote of 6-5.
Additionally, budget committee members approved the Fire Department budget, but held off on a vote to approve the $450,000 warrant article for a new fire engine to replace the 25-year-old Engine Four.
Fire Chief Steve Carrier pleaded with members of the budget committee that the department needed a new fire-engine.
"It's not so much the age of the truck, but the reliability," said Carrier. "It's not just a work truck."
According to Carrier, the department is structured around maintaining four fire engines, each with a specific purpose in fighting fires and saving homes.
Carrier explained that Engine Four, a 1988 model, is the back up "attack truck" to Engine Two, a 2003 model truck; both are the front line, primary trucks for fighting fires.
According to Carrier, these are the trucks that pull up in the driveway of a burning home and directly support firefighters when putting out fires.
The new engine Carrier hopes to purchase will become the new Engine Two, and become the primary "attack truck," bumping the current Engine Two down to backup status as the new Engine Four.
According to Carrier, Engine Four has already had its pump and engine rebuilt, and is again deemed unreliable, in his professional opinion.
"It's way past its predicted life-span," said Carrier, explaining that emergency service trucks are held to a high standard of performance, and Engine Four would need much work to meet an annual service test.
Budget committee member Kevin Leandro expressed concern with spending almost a half-million dollars on a new fire-engine.
Leandro, who is familiar with large diesel work-trucks, said that, given the use of the truck and his experience with his own dump-trucks, the 25-year-old Engine Four should have plenty more years of use left.
"I can't justify replacing a truck with that easy of a life," said Leandro, citing that the fire engines are housed in a heated garage. "I can justify fixing it. I'm not buying the scare-tactic that 'You would want it to start if it were your house.' You should be able to get another five, six or seven years out of it."
Budget committee members decided to hold off on a vote on the warrant article until they could examine Engine Four, and possibly seek an estimate to refurbish the current Engine Four.
Carrier said he was skeptical that the department could find a service garage that would refurbish a fire-engine 25-years-old that had already been rebuilt once before.