Norwich police, fire officials make case for addition funding in budget

Norwich - City police and fire officials made pleas for additional staffing, new vehicles and defended their budget requests Tuesday to the City Council, which received City Manager Alan Bergren's $118.4 million combined city and school budget last week.

Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato pleaded with the council to consider increasing staffing levels at the city's paid fire department from 13 per shift to 14 per shift in the coming year. Scandariato said his long-term goal is to increase staffing to 16 per shift, "to bring us back to the 1980s staffing level."

Scandariato said the staffing request has reached a critical level and has resulted in additional injuries and workers' compensation claims. Scandariato said workers' compensation has cost the city $3.2 million since 2006 and has resulted in 2,943 workdays lost.

Scandariato also asked that a full-time fire code clerk position cut from last year's budget be restored. He called it a "mistake" that the city eliminated the position.

Bergren's budget recommends no additional staffing in the fire department budget. Scandariato said the department was able to add an additional paid firefighter to the Greeneville station - the busiest station in the city, he said - and the move allowed the department to split one three-member crew into two two-member crews. He said the move has "made a world of difference" in attacking fires and responding to emergencies.

Scandariato said the paid department calls in the city's volunteer fire departments when needed, but the critical time in rescuing residents and fighting a fire is the first moments upon arrival, when the additional staffing would help.

The chiefs of the city's five volunteer fire departments also addressed the council on their budget needs. The Yantic and Taftville volunteer chiefs each asked for new firetrucks. Yantic Chief Frank Blanchard asked that the city replace a 1979 firetruck that still is used on more than 200 calls per year, while Laurel Hill Chief Aaron Westervelt said he would like to replace a 1981 Mac firetruck that is the last remaining standard-shift truck in the city's firetruck fleet. Westervelt said it takes extra training for firefighters to learn to drive the truck. Replacing it would cost an estimated $450,000.

Neither truck was funded in Bergren's budget.

Police Chief Louis Fusaro thanked the council for recent support in expanding the number of officers in his department from 90 to 98 since the 2012-13 fiscal year. But Fusaro had requested two additional civilian staff positions that were not funded in Bergren's recommended budget, a crime analyst at an estimated salary of $47,000 and a technology specialist at $57,000. The salary estimates do not include benefits.

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