Springfield Police, fire departments hit hiring roadblock
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | January 16,2013
SPRINGFIELD — The hopes of Springfield Police Chief Douglas Johnston and Fire Chief Russell Thompson to add staff to their crews have hit a big roadblock.
The chairman of the Springfield Budget Advisory Committee said Monday the committee would not support individual requests by Johnston and Thompson to add two full-time police officers and two full-time firefighters to the town’s payroll.
Everett Hammond, chairman of the budget group, said the committee believed the police department needed to fill the existing two vacancies in the department before requesting two more officers. He said the committee would be willing to review the request in the future, once the department was fully staffed.
Hammond also said the group was opposed to expanding the staff at the fire station as well, although he didn’t explain the group’s opposition.
Whether the Springfield Select Board will go against the recommendation by the budget group remains to be seen. The board is still reviewing the proposed $11 million town budget, which includes a $9.5 million operating budget and a $1.5 million capital budget, and isn’t expected to finalize the budget for a week.
The capital budget is expected to be cut substantially, said Town Manager Robert Forguites.
The current year’s operating budget is $9.3 million, coupled with a capital budget of $865,000.
Most of the discussion Monday evening during the budget workshop focused on the Police Department.
Johnston said that he believed he had finally filled the two long-time vacancies in the department. One potential new officer would start training at the Vermont Police Academy next month, and would graduate at the end of May. The department currently has 16 uniformed staff, including the chief and lieutenant, with the two vacancies.
The other potential new hire, who has been an officer elsewhere in Vermont, would need to go through the local department’s nine-week training or probation period. He estimated it would be summer before both officers had completed training and were on the job.
Johnston said the police academy’s new 16-week course started Feb. 4.
“We’ll be a full strength by summer,” he predicted.
Johnston and Thompson both made the argument that they could drastically reduce their overtime budgets by adding full time staff.
And both chiefs said the morale in their departments was low because of the required overtime to fill unfilled shifts.
“They are sick of the overtime,” said Johnston. “It affects morale.”
Each full time police officer is expected to cost a total of $75,000, when salary of $38,900, benefits and health care (estimated at $20,000) is added up, said town officials.
The figure for the Fire Department was slightly less at about $62,000 per new firefighter.
Johnston said adding two new officers to the department would not require additional cruisers.
Thompson said the additional staff would help address safety standards for firefighters responding to hazardous situations, since federal standards call for two firefighters to back up one in a hazardous situation.
Thompson said he probably could reduce his overtime budget between $25,000 to $30,000 with the two new officers, resulting in a net increase of about $100,000.
Much of the increase in his department comes from ambulance calls, with the department averaging six runs a day, he said.
“It takes a toll.”
Often there are simultaneous calls. Over the weekend, there were five simultaneous calls, and two Monday, he said. The department relies on mutual aid agreements with other fire departments and ambulance crews to help out, he said.