Fairhaven Firefighters Say Town Has Threatened to Cut Staff
The Fairhaven Firefighter Union Local 1555 issued a scathing press release on Tuesday morning accusing the Town of Fairhaven of advocating in bad faith for a tax override to maintain fire department staffing levels.
Over the last few months, the Fairhaven Firefighter Union Local 1555 has taken to Facebook and the media to sound the alarm on what it identifies as critically low staffing levels in the fire department.
The union has argued these staffing levels are not only a threat to the safety of the firefighters but also to the safety of town residents who may rely on the services of the fire department in an emergency.
The Town hired four additional firefighters in January who, once trained, would bring the fire department staffing to seven firefighters per shift.
But the union said it still needs additional full time firefighters retained to bring staffing to nine firefighters per shift, which despite being below their optimal staffing of 14 firefighters per shift is what the union views as a manageable level of staffing.
To fund the nine firefighter-per-shift staffing, the union has advocated for an override of Proposition 2½. Proposition 2½ is a Massachusetts law which caps the annual total raise of municipal taxes at 2.5 percent.
Overriding Prop 2½ requires approval from the Selectboard and Town Meeting to put the question on the ballot for an election and be voted on by the residents.
Union President Kevin Gonsalves previously told WBSM that based on a feasibility study commissioned by the union, a Prop 2½ override would allow the Town to add firefighters to their staff and would cost Fairhaven taxpayers less than $2 per week each.
But now, the fire union has accused the Town of misrepresenting the union's position and using the four new recruits as a "political chip" to get a Prop 2½ override passed.
They said the Town has told them that, rather than using the Prop 2½ override to bring up the staffing levels, the Town will instead let go of two of the four new recruits that they have already hired if the override is not passed.
"During talks with the town in January, our elected leaders agreed to the additional hiring of four firefighters and did not raise any concerns about funding these positions," the union said in the release. "Now, months later, after already hiring these members, the Town attempting to use and leverage our union to assist in the passage of a Proposition 2½ override."
"These elected officials are attempting to tie the override to its ability to retain two of the four firefighters," the union said. "The Town's politicization of the public safety of our community and threat to purposefully cut our staffing is not only dangerous, but downright offensive to our hardworking, dedicated, and professional firefighters."
Fairhaven Selectboard Chair Stasia Powers and Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison issued a joint statement to WBSM and added that they are limited in what they can discuss publicly because Town is still in contract negotiations with the union.
"We don’t have a signed agreement or contract with the firefighters at this time," they said. "Our goal is and has been to increase firefighter staffing in a fiscally responsible way. We look forward to achieving this goal in cooperation with the firefighters union."