There seems to be an emerging trend when it comes to Cheshire’s ongoing budget discussions.
While each department has provided plenty of line items for the Council to review, as it grinds its way towards a decision about exactly how much the local government will spend in the coming fiscal year, issues relating to personnel seem to be on everyone’s mind.
Last week, Public Works Director George Noewatne raised a small red flag about the engineering staff for the town, stating that “we’ve sort of unwittingly gutted the entire engineering side of the house here.” This came on the heels of what Police and Fire Chiefs Neil Dryfe and Jack Casner said late last month, about the need to add firefighters and police officers to the ranks.
No one suggested a crisis point has been reached. None of the department heads intimated that services won’t be rendered or that calls for assistance will go unanswered. But clearly, Dryfe, Casner and Noewatne are raising some red flags.
Ultimately, it’s up to the Council to ensure appropriate staffing levels are met. Yes, some equipment or technology can be purchased to do jobs that would otherwise be done by an employee. You can, at times, replace man with machine. But often, and in particular when it comes to public safety, it’s impossible to replace the individual.
Buy the most sophisticated fire apparatuses and they’ll sit idle if no one is there to man them. Purchase the best police cruisers and they’ll be particularly unhelpful if there’s no one to drive them to the scene of a crime or accident.
Of course, the Council has to balance exactly how much staffing is necessary to run these departments and provide town services in an efficient manner. Cheshire is a relatively small New England town and thus doesn’t require the same size police or fire departments as does a major metropolitan area with hundreds of thousands to millions of residents for which to account. There is a “sweet spot” when it comes to personnel and each municipality must find it in order to ensure that the most safety is provided with the least amount of budgetary waste.
Now seems like a good time to begin addressing those issues. No crisis is staring Cheshire in the face at the moment. If a fire blazes or a crime is committed within the community, public safety officers will be responding per usual. But when it comes to the welfare of the community, no one wants to wait until a real problem does arise. No one wants to ignore an issue until it can no longer be avoided, especially when problems with public safety can mean the difference between life and death.
Last week, Elim Park Place made its annual donation to the Police and Fire Departments. It’s a testament to the good relationship that exists between the community and one of its biggest facilities — one that, because of its religious affiliations, does not pay taxes to the municipality. It also provides needed funds to both departments, who always find a way to put the money to good use.
But those gifts aren’t enough to cover costs associated with staffing, and the pandemic has hammered home how important it is to have someone on the other end of the line when a crisis pops up. Just because the pandemic is receding doesn’t mean the need for safety will as well.
The Council has a lot to chew on when it comes to this year’s budget, but it needs to make sure that no piece of the budget is chewed on more than public safety personnel.