FARMINGTON – While selectmen approved of most of the proposed fiscal 2021 department budgets without much discussion on Thursday night, the one facing the most contention from board members was that of the Fire Rescue Department.
The fire department’s budget proposal totaling $771,154, represents an increase of $204,603, or 36.11 percent over the current 2020 budget.
“Our biggest problem is manpower,” Fire Chief Terry Bell said. “Places like Rumford are the same size as us, but their budgets are bigger than ours.”
Included in the increases for salary, overtime and workers compensation, the proposed 2021 budget includes funds for adding one per-diem firefighter five days a week to help with the labor shortage.
Selectman Joshua Bell asked about the students enrolled in Foster Tech’s firefighter program at the Mt. Blue campus as a way to increase the roster number and fill in the gaps in the department.
“I know this year’s attendance is down. In the long run, I would hope so,” Bell said.
The lack of new recruitment tactics to help solve the labor shortage left some board members concerned that the extra cost for a per-diem firefighter would eventually lead to even more costs to fill the need for a full-time position. Bell agreed that this was a possibility.
Selectman Scott Landry proposed an alternative to the substantial budget increase, suggesting that seeking help from other areas might be successful and save the town some money.
“I’d like to see not regionalization, but just some support from surrounding towns,” Landry said.
At the end of the discussion, the proposed fire department budget passed with a split 3-2 vote.
The board also approved all the proposed budgets for the remaining town departments, resulting in a total budget of $6.85 million for the 2021 fiscal year. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for April 12. The town meeting vote on warrant articles at the polls will be held on April 26.