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Image from the Sanford Fire Department's recruitment video.

The Sanford City Council met on August 17, and in a unanimous vote, approved amending the 2021-2022 Municipal Budget to include two new Firefighter/EMS positions. The funding of these positions was debated at length in budget discussions earlier this year. While they were not approved at that time, a majority of the Council said they would be favorable to adding the positions if a means could be found for doing so without impacting this year’s tax bills.

City Manager Steven Buck spoke about the seven-year effort to modernize the Fire Department’s equipment and bring it up to full staffing.

In addressing the funding for the new positions, he said the money available to pay for the positions is due to an increase in ambulance revenues, amounting to $151,911 over what was forecast in the last year’s budget. He described various factors that led to that increase, including the state’s expansion of MaineCare eligibility, which resulted in fewer uninsured people and thus fewer unpaid bills; as well an increase in the number of local people with private insurance, which pays at a higher rate than Medicare and MaineCare; as well as an increase in the number of ambulance calls. Due to those factors, Mr. Buck said he expects ambulance revenues to continue to rise, at least for the next two years.

In addition to the extra ambulance revenue, the Fire Department had $14,919 unexpended from its appropriation in last year’s budget.

At the close of each fiscal year on July 31, any additional revenue and unexpended funds roll over to the Unexpended Fund Balance. The Council may then authorize expending that money without affecting the current year’s tax bills.

Fire Chief Steve Benotti told the Council that the strategic planning process of the past several years determined that 13 people per shift is the proper number required, so that multiple incidents can be addressed within the City at the same time. He explained that 31% of calls the Department receives overlap at least one other call. He said the two new positions would be vital to helping the Department get closer to providing the full coverage needed.

The Fire Department is currently staffed with two shifts of 11 Firefighter/EMS personnel and two shifts of 12. The new positions will enable all four shifts to be staffed with 12 people.

Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy said she was very happy to be able to accomplish the increase in staffing for the Fire Department, but expressed concern that the Department might seek to add even more positions in next year’s budget. She said she felt “bullied” by the pressure she received on this issue “from all angles,” and would lean toward not increasing staffing levels again next year. “Other Departments have needs, too,” she said.

Councilor Ayn Hanselmann asked Chief Benotti if, given the current labor shortage, he expected to be able to fill the positions. He responded that he is getting applications, although not in the huge numbers he used to, and expects no problem in hiring the new Firefighters.

Watch the complete City Council meeting video here.

Watch the Fire Department’s recruitment video here.

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