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Fairfield's Fire, Police Costs Hold Steady

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield’s police and fire departments both responded to more calls in the last year than in years past. But the increase won’t be taken out on the town’s taxpayers.

Fire Chief Richard Felner and Police Chief Gary MacNamara asked for little to no funding increases for the next year as they pitched their budgets to Fairfield’s leaders Tuesday night.

“Our budget is very lean,” Felner told the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance . “We’d like to ask for other things, but we realize times are tough and we’ve tried to hold it down.”

On the Fire Department’s side, Felner’s budget plan for 2012-13 would cost about $234,000 more than in 2011-12, or a 1.7 percent increase. Most of that would go toward higher salaries for the town’s firefighters, as ordered by the union’s recently approved contract . Each firefighter will get a 2.75 percent pay raise under that deal.

The only other major expense for the Fire Department would be a pair of new vehicles, a sedan for staff use and an outfitted SUV for responding to calls. Combined, the two new cars would cost the town about $111,000.

The Board of Finance asked Felner about the department’s current staffing model, specifically about the use of overtime to cover vacant staff positions. Fairfield has four vacant firefighter slots. It currently pays existing staffers overtime to fill those needs. Felner said Tuesday that saves the town the money of training and paying salary and benefits for new full-time firefighters.

“All of that really adds up,” Felner said. “Right now, it’s cheaper to keep the vacancy.”

As for the police, MacNamara’s 2012-13 budget would actually cost the town a few thousand dollars less than the current year. He explained that after looking at the police department actually spending over the last few years, he was able to ask for less money.

“This budget is basically a zero percent increase from last year,” MacNamara said. “But we certainly remain confident we can continue our high level of service to the community in there stressed economic times.”

The police are also asking for a new group of vehicles next year. MacNamara’s plan calls for 10 new patrol cars to phase out older models running high on miles. Fairfield usually rotates out a full dozen each year, but in 2012-13 MacNamara decided to trim the amount because of a change in the fleet.

The police-standard Ford Crown Victoria is no longer in production. MacNamara said he’s not sure what model will replace them in Fairfield’s fleet, but he wanted to order fewer cars as a trial before switching over to a new model.

The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance will continue to hold budget hearings throughout March. Residents who want to voice their opinions on the town’s spending can attend any meeting. On March 24, there will be a special public hearing to hear all citizens’ concerns. Both boards will then make their final budget vote in the last week of the month.

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