BY ANDREAS YILMA
NAUGATUCK — The fire and police chiefs presented their department budget proposals for the coming fiscal year and both are at least 3.5% over the current year.
Police Chief Colin McAllister presented a budget request to the Board of Finance as budget workshops began on Feb. 13. He proposed an $8.2 million budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which would increase department spending by $463,241 or about 5.77% from this fiscal year.
The bulk of the increase came from increases of $409,578 in payroll, $15,684 for training in service school, $24,270 to upgrade the police station’s HVAC system, about $9,000 for ammunition and $11,686 for ballistic vests.
McAllister said there were raises out of the police contract that was settled, including a 2.5% wage increase effective July 1, 2022. The department’s social worker was moved over to a payroll line item. The police chief also requested adding a 60th officer as a new school resource officer for elementary schools and to focus on school security measures, which would be split between the Board of Education and the borough.
In addition to the current social worker who works with clients needing a higher level of care, police are looking to subcontract a social worker at a lower level of care for outreach efforts, including substance abuse disorders and homelessness, McAllister said at the Feb. 21 budget workshop.
“There’s people all over the community that reach out to the police department asking for problems to be solved and we utilize our social workers regardless of what those are. But it’s just been very effective for us to house it in our building so I don’t necessarily want you to look at this as a police department request,” McAllister said. “This is something that’s benefiting the town. It’s a townwide service that we’re simply going to be housing withing the building out of our social work program.”
The increase for service school is due to the police department having young police officers and having more mandated training required by the police accountability law enacted by the state legislature last year. There is also an increase in state contract pricing for ballistic vests, McAllister said.
Fire Chief Paul Russell presented his department’s budget that same evening and requested a roughly $5 million budget for next fiscal year that would increase spending by about $173,613 or 3.5% from this current year.
Most of the increase came from increases of $265,933 for payroll, $15,600 for school reimbursement, $7,554 for clothing and uniforms and $6,000 for protective clothing. However, the department was also able to save about $133,304 in overtime costs.
Through their contract, firefighters received a 2.5% raise on July 1, 2022, and will be receiving the same 2.5% raise at the beginning of the upcoming fiscal year. The payroll increase is also attributed to the fire marshal’s office request for a part-time member as Deputy Fire Marshal James Gies will be resigning in September, Russelll said.
“Besides inspection aspects of it, all the new buildings and stuff that’s going to come in, all the construction, part of that is our fire marshal has to review plans,” Russell said.
Overtime was reduced through the settling or awarding of the firefighter’s contract with significant savings. The fire department now has flexibility where new hires who are already trained will most likely not have to go to the Connecticut Fire Academy, Russell said.
“If we hire somebody who maybe is not trained, we used to be completely committed to the Connecticut Fire Academy,” Russell said. “Now we have the option of possibly sending them to another department in another major city that will be running a recruit-type fire class. So that is really significant savings in the overtime account.”
Russell said he would be requesting $283,000 more if it wasn’t for the changes in the collective bargaining agreement.
Retention of firefighters has been an issue at the department. Since March of 2020, 17 firefighters have left the department. So far this fiscal year, seven members have left with an eighth expecting to leave in May. The department just hired three new members, Russell said.
“With the changes in the collective bargaining agreement, it helps us save a lot money in replacing firefighters and training firefighters,” he said.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said he expects the upcoming budget to be close to flat.
“We’re going to generate about $1.2 million in new revenue just off of buildings that were built last year that are new to the grand list,” Hess said.