When rainstorms are heavy, water from Main Street flows to Stepney Fire Station 1 because there are no storm drains on that stretch of roadway — and the drops leak through the roof over one of Monroe's firehouses. Meanwhile, training must be funded and expensive equipment and apparatus must be maintained and replaced periodically.
"I might not send a firefighter to a training course to fix a truck that blows its transmission," Stepney Fire Chief Michael Klemish told Board of Finance members at a budget workshop this week. "We're constantly juggling our budgets. I have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”
Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed asked, "At what point does Peter go broke?"
"Peter’s broke," Klemish replied.
Klemish and Monroe Volunteer Fire Department President Chris Krize spoke at the budget workshop and, though no representative from the Stevenson Volunteer Fire Department was able to attend that night, Stevenson firefighters face similar issues.
The Town Council only made $2,000 cuts from each fire company's proposal across the board, but Klemish and Krize said that was after cuts made by First Selectman Steve Vavrek.
"I put in for $283,000 last year and got $198,000," Klemish said to illustrate the gulf between funding the town has approved and what the fire departments' actually need.
All three fire companies raise money through fundraisers with mailings and events like the annual Fireman's Carnival, Lobster-bake and Supper with Santa. But town funding is still needed for expensive capital needs and equipment.
Catching Up on Captal Needs
Budget proposals for 2013-14 currently stand at $211,075 for Monroe, $182,987 for Stevenson and $208,440 for Stepney — increases of $10,004, $8,471 and $9,912 respectively.
"I know it's a big percentage, but we're on a low base," Krize said. "The dollar amount isn't significant. We have a fund balance, but I can't pull from it five times or it will be gone."
Both Krize and Klemish say if the fire departments can catch up on capital needs, future budget requests would be minimal. But now they say they are in catch-up mode.
The fire companies had zero increases in fiscal years 2005-07 and 2010-2012.
"I may end my year with no money left over," Krize said. "We can continue to come to the town and cry when things break down, but we're trying to right-size our budget to address smaller capital projects."
Though there are numerous needs for the Monroe Fire Department, Krize hopes to receive $25,000 from the town so a firehouse roof may be replaced sometime next year.
Klemish said Stepney Fire needs $25,000 for capital, $39,000 for air-packs and $8,500 for air bottles.
Though Main Street is a state roadway, Klemish said the state wants Monroe to share in the costs associated with the paving and storm drains.
Though no decisions were made that night, Board of Finance member Ted Quinlan focused on the capital needs of both departments.
Quinlan said, "If $50,000 is getting in the way of providing the services we need to provide for, or motivating bad decisions, at some point, let's see what it's costing us from the standpoint of dollars and cents — and from protecting the people in town. We're looking at public safety. I had a fire in my house and these people saved my family and my house."