It’s time for some taxpayer relief.
That’s how Ward 5 Councilman and chairman of the Council Finance Committee Ed Ladouceur is approaching this year’s budget deliberations. And as a prelude to the budget debate, the committee voted to recommend denial of the Fire Department’s request for two new pumper trucks costing about $900,000 and $10,000 to buy appliances for its stations.
“This is a culture and it’s been in existence a very long time,” he said of the city support for the department respective to new stations, equipment, salary increases and added personnel. Ladouceur believes the department is excellent but he is not going to rubber stamp their wish list, or for that matter, the wish list of any other department in the upcoming budget process.
“The taxpayers are telling me they want some tax relief,” Ladouceur said. “We’ve got to slow down the spending.”
In an interview Friday, Chief James McLaughlin said he had hoped to continue the department’s ongoing apparatus replacement program.
“This is nothing personal,” McLaughlin said of the committee’s vote that was unlikely to be overturned by the full council at its meeting last night. The department has nine engine companies – one for each station – and two that are held in reserve. The reserve trucks were new in 1994 and 2000.
“They’re running, just older trucks with more issues,” he said. Had the council approved the new trucks they would have become part of the “front line” fleet with the two vehicles they replaced, at 1999 and a 2,000, replacing the reserves.
“It’s good to replace them and have a steady plan,” McLaughlin said.
Nonetheless, McLaughlin doesn’t see an issue if acquisition of the new trucks is delayed.
“The safety of the city is not compromised,” he said.
Ladouceur didn’t see that as of concern, either.
The committee likewise rejected the department’s request for $10,000 to replace station appliances. During the hearing the department shared bids received for appliances and explained a practice of replacing older equipment.
“I assure you we’re not replacing them just to replace them,” Assistant Chief James Kenney told the committee.
Citizen advocate Robert Cote pointed out that in addition to stoves and refrigerators station appliances include clothes washers and dryers and dishwashers. He suggested firefighters get a sponge and soap to clean dishes and noted they receive a $450 allowance to clean their clothes.
Cote told the committee to look at the entire fire budget and their ability to manage it.
“This is a kick in the teeth to the public,” he said, “at what point does the taxpayer have to stop paying for luxury items?’
Cote said he is “grateful” for the city’s firefighters, adding, “every year they come back and ask for more.”
Roger Durand echoed Cote.
“The taxpayers are fed up with increased taxes,” he said.
On Sunday Ladouceur said he’s simply drawing a line on Fire Department spending.
“This is all department heads,” he said, “if you don’t have all the information, it’s [expenditure request] is going to get held or voted down. I’m not playing with that anymore.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian was not surprised by the committee’s vote. He said bringing up the vehicle replacement program serves to put the council on notice that the city will need to replace aging vehicles going forward.