Budget reductions include fire marshal position

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FireDepartmentNAUGATUCK — The fire department has asked the Board of Finance for a 17 percent budget increase for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Fire Chief Ken Hanks earlier this week proposed a $4.3 million budget, about $620,000 more than the current allocation. Most of that increase is related to the expected retirements of a captain, three firefighters and a dispatcher. They have not submitted official notices but are likely to next fiscal year, Hanks said.

Until their replacements are trained, others will fill their vacancies on overtime to meet minimum staffing requirements, causing a predicted $266,000 spike in the overtime account. Payments for their unused sick and vacation time will increase the retirement account another $106,000. Costs also will go up for in-house training and protective gear for the new hires.

The department also requested $69,000 for a full-time fire marshal, a position that has not existed since 1997. The finance board decided not to fund that and made a few other reductions, bringing the increase to 15 percent. Final numbers will not be decided until May, when the budget is adopted.

“I think you can justify a lot of positions that you would like to have in the budget across many departments,” Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said. “It’s a matter of what we can afford. Every community in the state is being asked to do more with less. We’ve been doing so since I’ve been here. It’s not easy and it’s not perfect.”

Inspections of multi-unit buildings have been backlogged for years because the fire marshal’s office has been so short-staffed, Hanks said, adding he understands last year’s revaluation and national economic troubles have complicated borough spending.

“I’ll make another case for it,” Hanks said. “This is going to be probably the toughest budget we’ve ever had.”

Former Fire Chief Charles Doback also served as fire marshal for an extra $5,000 before retiring in 2010. The borough also employs a deputy fire marshal, who is now acting marshal, and a fire inspector, who is now acting deputy fire marshal. Hanks and members of the Fire Commission no longer want the chief or deputy chief to double as head marshal, saying the workload is too heavy.

The firefighters’ union contract calls for the deputy fire chief to double as the fire marshal, but Doback retained the position when he was promoted from deputy chief. The position is not in the union, but the borough and union would have to negotiate over that if a full-time head marshal is hired, Hanks said. Acting Fire Marshal Robert Weaver is in the union.

The two current fire marshals are often pulled away from their inspection duties to investigate large incidents, apply for housing warrants on absentee landlords or, more recently, review five sets of plans for the $81 million renovation of Naugatuck High School. Last year, state-mandated annual inspections had not been done on at least a quarter of multifamily homes in the borough, a number Acting Deputy Fire Marshal William Scanlon said is smaller now.

“I know definitely that we have cleaned up a lot of the real old inspections, and we’re trying to stay even with what we have, but definitely the high school is going to take time on us,” Scanlon said.