“It’s Just Enough” vs a $3 Million Increase
They get it up north; in one corner of East Bay, not so much.
Last night, the Woonsocket City Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Fontaine’s shift restructuring of the fire department in an effort to alleviate a seven figure overtime overage. From the Woonsocket Call.
The council voted 7-0 to roll the 124 members of the fire department into three platoons instead of the current four, with an average work week ballooning from 42 hours to 56. Instead of working two 10-hour days, followed by two 14-hour nights with four days off in between, firefighters would work endless loops of 24 hours on duty followed by two days off.
Clad in blue and red, some 45 firefighters packed the hall to protest the proposal, but nearly as many citizens — some affiliated with the Woonsocket Taxpayer Coalition, a local government watchdog group, cheered the council on.
“I’m not faulting the firemen — they do a great job,” said Steve Lima, the president of the group.
“But $1.2 million in overtime is unacceptable in any economy. We can’t keep working our overtime to pay for them. It’s just enough.”
Concurrently, a sub-committee of the Woonsocket School Committee is struggling mightily to find ways to close a budget gap opened up by a pending reduction in state aid.
Contrast with the work product of the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee last week.
Superintendent of Schools Melinda Thies presented the school committee’s approved budget proposal to the Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday evening, asking the towns to share a requested increase of $2,916,164 for the school budget that begins July 1. That’s a total request of $21.7 million from Bristol and $12.2 million from Warren.
In defending this $2.9 million increase to the budget in a time of shrinking revenues and a lousy economy, the school committee pointed out that they had made cuts and balanced the budget last year.
In his opening statement to an audience of 250 people, Mr. Barboza noted the school district’s positive end to last year’s budget. A $22,700 surplus and over $2 million in funds reserved for cash flow and emergencies, he said, is the result of “doing more with less.”
* * *
To achieve the surplus, Ms. Thies said the district has made sacrifices, including an administration pay freeze, accepting a 20 percent co-pay to keep medical premiums lower, and a reduction in full-time employees. These measures were taken in the past year while the district experienced “an uptick” in student enrollment, she said.
Question for the B-W School Committee: what do you see as the frequency of the obligation to balance a budget? Once a decade? Every five years? Or is this, like, a one shot deal and you’re pretty much clear of the whole thing going forward?
To the Woonsocket Mayor, City Council and School Comm: Roses and our heartfelt thanks for all of your efforts.
To the Bristol Warren School Committee: Raspberries and a nice, spacious drawing board. The job is not nearly finished yet.