For immediate release.
The city has approximately $250,000 in contingency money which is designated for use under emergency situations. In an unprecedented move, the Portsmouth Fire Department has decided to request these emergency funds to augment the budget submitted in 2011 – essentially for salary increases to already highly generously paid city employees. There has been no unexpected nor emergent change to warrant using these crucial funds to increase the fire budget. It would be an irresponsible precedent to allow a city leader to change his budget midstream without a significant event that necessitates the use of three fifths of the city’s emergency funds.
In 1993 the third fire station was created after the city acquired Pease land and facilities. The population of Portsmouth in 1990 was 25,925 and the city was served by 2 fire stations. We now have 3 fire stations to serve a population of 21,233. The addition of the third station caused the creation of 4 firefighter jobs and 4 fire lieutenants to serve 4 shifts, as per the 93/94 budget. Since the time that that the third station was created Portsmouth has had a lower ratio of firefighters to officers. In 1995 the fire department was allocated 9.1 percent of the city budget. Today the fire department is allocated 10 percent per the city reports. Even with this increased portion of the budget it’s the fire chief who is asking for more and reneging on his acceptance of the 2012 budget. The Portsmouth Fire Department has had the highest increases of any department – well over DOUBLE inflation over the past 15 years (1995/96-2009/10). From 1995/96-2009/10, the Fire department budget (mostly salary/personnel costs) went UP 112%. Inflation for these same years was 47%.
Portsmouth is one of the most densely allocated departments in the state with 3 stations for 16 Sq. miles of land. For example Concord, NH has approximately 1 station for every 16 square miles of its 64 square miles of land and has twice the population of Portsmouth and similar daytime population growth. Portsmouth further expanded the capacity of its stations with the construction of the new station 2 on Lafayette Road in 2010. The Portsmouth Fire department has seen tremendous growth and substantial community support as the population decreases.
Given the response times and distance by fire department around the state, Portsmouth meets or exceeds the standards of the majority of other communities even when it uses only its two larger stations.
The campaign to increase the budget by suggesting that the city residents need to learn CPR because of the closing of a station that was added during a time of higher local population was unfortunate. CPR and other first aid skills are needed at all times. The recent actions of a worker at a local gym that saved the life of a client happened within a short distance of stations 1 and 2. The fact is that no matter how close a fire and rescue station is that it’s often the onsite citizen with the emergency skill set who makes the crucial difference. It’s a shame that this skillset was spun as necessary due to the brownout of station 3 rather than something each citizen in every district should strive to learn as a citizen first responder. It’s also disturbing to find out that the overstated ISO standards seemingly have little to do with most insurance rates and the taxpayer funded improvements to station 2 are ignored.
Portsmouth is becoming a different community. The typical NH working class worker who lived in Puddledock in the 1960’s and 1970’s is disappearing, being replaced by families in subsidized housing as others leave the city when they can no longer afford to live here. The regressive water/sewer costs in the city have upended working families’ budgets and their ability to pay the high property taxes.
We should not be using emergency funds to augment capricious budgets without emergent situations. Management changing their minds about their budget is not an emergency; it is a failure of public leadership to properly manage their department and the audacity to ask for more.