Union, town seek ways to cut $220K, save 12 firefighter jobs

BOURNE, Mass. — Fire and town officials are looking for ways to avoid cutting almost a quarter of the fire department’s staff from the payroll, including the possibility of taking on dispatch services that have been handled by the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re working in good faith to save the town money and retain the positions,” said firefighter-paramedic Shawn Silva, president of the Bourne Firefighters Local Union 1717.

Currently forty-four firefighters man three stations in Bourne; however, 12 of those positions may soon be cut — a byproduct of last week’s failed Proposition 2½ override, said Bourne Fire Chief Norman Sylvester.

On Monday, Bourne voters will decide at a special town meeting whether to cut those positions or take other action to balance the budget.

The narrow Oct. 6 defeat by Bourne residents of a $2.7 million tax increase requires almost $1 million in mid-year cuts across many town departments, including the fire department, to bridge a budget shortfall and bring expenses in line with revenues, Town Administrator Thomas Guerino said.

The proposed cuts include laying off four firefighters, which will lead to the forfeiture of a $1.3 million federal Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant that pays for eight additional firefighters.

Another $1.2 million in cuts to town services and staff is slated for fiscal year 2017.

The current focus is on finding $220,000 in the fire department budget in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. One measure under consideration is to return dispatch operations to the fire department instead of relying on a regional service as the town has for the past 10 years.

For more than a decade, Bourne fire and emergency dispatch service has been handled by a regional emergency call center overseen by the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office on Joint Base Cape Cod.

Special Sheriff Jeffrey Perry confirmed an unwritten policy had been in place by which the town was not charged for the service in exchange for providing ambulance services to the Barnstable County Correctional Facility off Connery Avenue.

But that changed this year when the sheriff began assessing the towns he provides dispatch services for differently. Under the new arrangement, Bourne and the other nine Cape towns served by the sheriff would be assessed on a per capita basis, resulting in a $125,000 charge to Bourne.

The town will no longer provide free ambulance services to the jail, Perry said.

The details about how dispatching would be handled by fire department staff are still being discussed with the union, Sylvester said.

From Cape Cod Times