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    Springfield to hire new police, firefighters; banking on casino money to cover additional salary costs: city officials

    November 21, 2014

    Springfield intends to hire 58 new police and firefighters in the coming months, and is banking on funding from the MGM Springfield to see that the city will continue to be able to afford them into the future.

    Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, in a press conference at Police Headquarters on Pearl Street, announced the city will hire 30 new police officers and 28 firefighters, and the hope is all new hires will be trained and deployed by the summer.

    The new hires are critical for two departments that have seen their numbers decline over the last decade, but Sarno said it is just as critical that the city be able to absorb the additional $3.2 million in personnel costs without needing to resort to layoffs later on.

    “We want to make sure we can do it in a sustainable fashion and that we can continue it,” Sarno said.

    The mayor said he was very proud that in a very difficult economy over the last five or six years that he has not had to lay off any police or fire fighters “as other cities have had to do.”

    He said he has consulted with Police Commissioner John Barbieri, Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant, and city Chief Administrative and Financial Officer T.J. Plante about ensuring the cost of new hires is sustainable over the long term.

    “And it works,” he said.

    As Plante explained, the police and fire department budgets have sufficient funding for the new hires through the end of the fiscal year in June.

    The new costs would be roughly $585,000 for the police and $575,000 for the fire department, he said. That includes, salaries, training, and uniforms and equipment.

    For fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, the hires will result in an additional $1.86 million in personnel costs for the police and $1.74 million for the fire department, he said. That includes salaries, benefits and educational incentives.

    Most of that money will be offset by the $3 million the MGM Springfield is due to pay the city next year, Plante said.

    “Sustainability for the long-term is where MGM comes in. We’ve agreed to a pre-pay. We can bank on an additional $3 million in advance of having the casino built when other revenue will kick in,” he said.

    “Having that as a back up for all this make it easier,” Plante said.

    The new hires will mean the police department will grow to 483 sworn officers, of which 409 will be out on the street dealing directly with crime and investigations. The Fire Department will have 260 total employees, 248 of whom will be sworn firefighters. Of those, 228 will staff fire trucks and respond to emergencies.

    Conant said he was very excited by the news.

    “For the first time in many, many years, we are adding budgeted firefighters,” he said.

    In the last few years as the department ranks have dwindled through retirements and attrition, the department has had three firefighters on trucks instead of four.

    One fewer firefighter per truck means it takes longer to open a fire hydrant, to run a hose into a building, or to extend a ladder, he said.

    “Adding to personnel makes firefighters safer and the city safer,” he said.

    Barbieri said the additional police officers will be deployed to address issues of public safety and quality-of-life issues throughout the city.

    “We’re going or work on the root causes of crime with social groups. We’re going to work on long-term issues with neighborhoods, and on the short term things that upset people in neighborhoods,” he said.

    When the casino is operational and people from out of town come to Springfield, he said, “they’re going to see officers on foot, at stationary posts, in cruisers and on bicycles.”

    The additional deployment will allow people to feel safe in their homes, on the street, and in businesses and schools, he said.

    During the 1990s, the Springfield police ranks swelled to as high as 547, largely through federal funding available to communities to hire more police officers.

    When that funding dried, up, Springfield was forced to lay off 76 police officers in February 2003.

    The fire department had as many as 320 firefighters during this period, but was forced to lay off 76 people at the same time.

    The 30 new police officers come on the heels of the department last month deploying 22 officers who had completed training through the department’s police academy.

    Conant and Barbieri said they intend to begin interviews and background checks on applicants as soon as the next list of candidates is made available by the state Department of Civil Service.

    Barbieri said he would like to have the next police academy class in place by January or February at the latest to begin the six-month training program.

    The fire department will conduct two separate training academies of 14 cadets each. Conant said he would like to see the new firefighters in service by the summer.

    City Councilor Thomas Ashe, chairman of the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, said “This is an exciting day for the city of Springfield.”

    He said it is especially important for each department to be bringing in new people as each is poised to see “an avalanche of retirements” in the coming years.

    “This is going to be as important in the future as it is today,” he said.

    City Council President Michael Fenton, who was not in attendance for the announcement, said he was pleased with the announcement of the new hires.

    “I am happy to see our public safety personnel finally bolstered after reaching dangerously low levels. I look forward to ensuring that we make staffing levels even stronger as we cope with attrition,” he said.

    He reiterated his recent proposal for the city to hire 30 additional police officers next year, and said he will see to it that it is part of the council’s upcoming discussions with MGM.

    “It’s not a one-time thing. We need to think strategically. There’s more than sufficient funding to get that done,” he said.

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