North Adams police, fire departments up budgets for injury coverage

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NORTH ADAMS — Both the Police and Fire Department budgets are increasing this year after officials had to reassess costs in the wake of several injuries to employees.

Police, Fire, and city officials gathered before the City Council's Finance Committee on Monday to review the public safety budget, which will see sharp increases in overtime costs under Mayor Richard Alcombright's proposed fiscal 2017 budget.

The proposed budget is being reviewed by the Finance Committee in a series of informal meetings before it is sent back to the full council for final approval in June.

The Fire Department had previously assumed in its budget that two full-time firefighters would have injuries incurred on duty at any one time. But with long-term injuries sustained this year that included a lieutenant, city officials are increasing that number to 2.5.

The Police Department currently has two officers out on long-term disability and no clear idea of when they will return. Its budget also projected for two on-duty injuries last year, but will assume three in next year's budget

With the new injury assumptions factored into both department's budgets, officials also have to calculate an increased amount of overtime that will be worked by those filling in for injured, sick and vacationing employees.

Overtime in the Fire Department's budget jumped from $187,451 in fiscal 2016 to a proposed $251,704 in fiscal 2017. Similarly, the Police Department had budgeted for $256,100 in fiscal 2016 to a proposed $304,876 in the coming year.

Overall, the police budget increased from $1.73 million last year to a proposed $1.97 million in the upcoming year, while the fire budget rose from $1.55 million to $1.65 million in the same span.

The Fire Department has contractual obligations to reach minimum staffing levels on any given shift. Though it tried to make use of reserve firefighters, that isn't always possible, Director Stephen Meranti told the Finance Committee.

Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said that while his staffing levels are contractual, there are standards that need to be met. Cozzaglio said, he has a difficult time hiring reserve officers.

"We're just trying to keep our head above water," Cozzaglio said.

Several firefighters also received additional vacation days under the collectively bargained contract, meaning more overtime for other firefighters to fill those open shifts.

Altogether, there are nearly 1,000 days lost to either vacation, sick or training days in a single year in the Fire Department, according to Administrative Officer Michael Canales. About 45 percent of the time, another firefighter is called in to fill that shift.

The Police Department does plan to grow by one officer this year to replace a recently retired officer, but two more are expected to retire in fiscal 2017, according to Cozzaglio. To help keep overtime in check, police have to maintain safe staffing levels, Cozzaglio said.

The department is currently paying overtime to fill in for the injured school resource officer, a position that is direly needed, Cozzaglio said.

"You know the situation we're in and we know the level of activity we experience in the city," Cozzaglio said. "We're doing our very best to keep that in check, but staffing is always an issue; overtime is certainly an issue."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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