Under Proposed Budget, South Fire Station Would Be Closed Six Months
Firefighters Union lobbying for full funding.
It seems to have become a budget tradition in Tewksbury over the past few years.
When the numbers are crunched, there doesn’t seem to be enough money available to keep the South Fire Station Open 365 days a year. The only question, from year-to-year, is how many months can the funds be stretched.
This year, under the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposed by Town Manager Richard Montuori, the South Station would be open just a little over six months, according to Fire Chief Michael Hazel. While it's not what Hazel wants, he is keenly aware of the fiscal realities.
"I put in a budget request for (South Station) to be fully open all throughout the year," said Hazel. "But the budget instructions contained in the (Montuori's) budget message modified that."
The Budget Message sent out by Montuori to his department heads late last year called for a conservative approach to the budget process based on increased fixed costs (health insurance, etc.) and contractual obligations, as well as dismal revenue forecasts from the state, making increased state aid unlikely.
Montuori said he would love to see South Station opened year-round but the numbers just don't add up.
"There is only so much money to go around," he said.
Montuori is also committed to re-building the town's Stabilization Fund, which had been reduced to just $50,000 as of 2010. Last fall, voters at the Special Town Meeting transferred $2.7 million in certified free cash into the fund to boost the total to $4.1 million. That's still a low amount for a town of Tewksbury's size and Montuori has been loathe to dip into that fund to fund the town's operating budget.
However, the ultimate decision will rest in the hands of voters at the Annual Town Meeting in May. One year ago, voters were faced with an almost identical situation and they voted to fully fund the Fire Department in order to keep South Station open year-round.
To do that again this year, voters would need to spend an additional $351,081.
One group that would like to see those funds added into the Fire Department _budget is the local Firefighters Union. In an Open Letter to the Residents of Tewksbury, Firefighter Mike Callahan offered a history of South Station and its funding issues. He also expressed frustration over what he considers the Fire Department low standing on Montuori's list of priorities.
"We feel that it’s now time for you, the taxpayer, to get involved. There are several things that you can do if you would like to see the South Street fire station remain opened. You could write, call, or visit your selectman, town manager, fire chief, or finance committee member and let him/her know your feelings on this issue," wrote Callahan. "A better option would be to attend the annual town meeting in May and exercise your right to vote. Our fear is that if nothing is done soon, we may be witnessing the final phases of South Street fire station."