Kyle Stucker On May 31, 2017
Rochester assistant fire chief Mark Dupuis says he’ll continue pushing city council to increase staff after one new firefighter position was added to the city budget to address a shortage.
Photo credit: Facebook/Rochester NH Fire Department
May 31–ROCHESTER, NH– City councilors added one new position to the Rochester Fire Department’s budget Tuesday night, helping to address the department’s current staff shortage as well as moving the city a step closer toward opening a third fire station.
The council voted 11-1 to add roughly $78,000 to cover the additional firefighter at the start of fiscal year 2018 in July. Ralph Torr was the only dissenting vote.
The additional firefighter will help the department grapple with staffing issues. Two two staff members are out on medical leave and, come July, four will be out on military leave.
Rochester was able to fully staff a shift only 29 percent of the time last year. As a result, the department’s response times to certain areas, such as dense developments on the city’s north end, are longer than the state’s recommended safety standards.
Assistant Fire Chief Mark Dupuis said he plans to propose a $3.9 million project for FY23 in order to build a third fire station, which will reduce those response times. He also said he will continue to ask for more firefighters.
“Those are things I won’t stop asking for,” said Dupuis, noting both measures will improve safety for his staff and residents.
Rochester will save roughly $153,000 in salary costs in FY18 due to the four military leaves. Tuesday’s addition means the city adds a firefighter without incurring a budget increase in FY18.
The position’s salary and benefits will pose an increase in future years, and councilors cited that Tuesday as they voted 7-5 against adding a second new firefighter position.
City councilors also made dozens of other amendments during Tuesday’s frenetic workshop.
Among them were ones that removed projects from the city’s capital improvement plan in future years, slashing tens of millions of dollars.
Deputy Mayor Ray Varney made the majority of those motions. While addressing his CIP cuts, he said the city shouldn’t carry a number of projects it can’t or doesn’t want to fund because a packed CIP can negatively affect Rochester’s bond rating.
A half-hour public hearing preceded the budget workshop. During the hearing, several residents spoke out about increasing the city’s budget and requested councilors not spend up to the tax cap.
“When’s the last time someone has spoken at one of these public hearings and something has changed?” asked one resident. “I ask that you give the taxpayer some sort of break.”
Bottom-line budget figures weren’t available after Tuesday night’s changes, nor was the new adjusted total’s tax rate impact. Going into Tuesday’s session, the FY18 operating budget called for $59.5 million to be raised by taxation.
Budget deliberations will continue in the coming weeks. Mayor Caroline McCarley said she is targeting June 13 as a possible budget approval date.
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