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Scituate Fire Deptartment is facing big budgetary questions

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 17, 2010 02:45 PM

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Scituate's Fire Department will be collecting higher fees for permits and inspections, but is facing some major budgetary questions over he next few years.

Selectmen approved the higher fees at their meeting Tuesday, when they also heard Fire Chief Richard Judge discuss such issues as overtime costs and the need to replace the 34-year-old pumper truck at Fire Department headquarters.

Judge said he hopes to purchase a 23-year-old, $14,000 pumper truck from Cohasset.
The purchase, which would come out of last year’s budget, would be much less expensive than a new pumper truck, which would cost $430,000, he said.

Despite the used pumper’s age, Judge said the truck was in good condition and would last until the town could afford a new one. “It’s not the cure-all, it's a little help for a couple of years,” Judge said.

When the town will need a new truck isn’t certain, as the 24-year-old pumper truck at Humarock is also on its last legs.

“Every year it’s going to be a flip of the coin,” Judge said.

“Normally, you get 25 years out of a truck, and hopefully we can get a few more years out of [the Humarock truck] if the state inspectors agree with us,” he said.

The selectmen passed a motion to buy the $14,000 truck.

According to Judge, the town's three trucks are all used during storms or busy nights, so having three working trucks is a priority.

Budget problems also arose with the discussion of overtime, a cost incurred due to the vacation time given to employees as an alternative to monetary compensation. In addition, a few empty positions have the town filling schedule gaps with expensive overtime costs, which has left the Fire Department budget underfunded.

“I did get $14,000 extra [from the state], but I’m still $100,000 short from where I was two years ago,” Judge said.

As for cutting the amount of people on a shift, it just isn’t an option, Judge said.

“We’re fully staffed with 12 people on each shift. We run at a minimum of 10, and I believe that’s the least you can run the Scituate Fire Department at a safe level,” Judge said.

Although the overtime budget was “out of control,” Judge said, the amount of vacations would lessen after the holidays, and the problems would level out.

The budget has been helped a bit since the Fire Department started running a second ambulance, which has collected $30,000 in billings in the past six weeks.

The fee increases approved by selectmen Tuesday doubled most rates, though they remain lower than most South Shore communities.

Burning permits will be raised to $10 from $5, for example, and smoke alarm inspections to $30 from $15.

To calculate the new costs, Judge took an inventory of eight South Shore towns and averaged out the costs, making Scituate’s a little bit lower than average.

A complete list of all fee changes will be published on the town website in the next few days.

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