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In Derry, Budget Cuts Spur Concerns About Public Safety

Town of Derry

Deep budget cuts are causing controversy in the town of Derry.

At a meeting last month, the town council voted 4-3 to close one of the town’s fire stations. The budget also eliminates eight firefighter positions and cuts the department’s overtime budget by nearly half a million dollars.

Those opposed to the cuts are raising concerns about the impact on public safety.

Hunter McGee is correspondent for the Union Leader. He’s been covering the story and joined Morning Edition to talk about his reporting.

We’ve touched on a few of the cuts already, but can you go through what the councilors decided to eliminate?

They decided to eliminate the fire positions, close a fire station that is in East Derry, and cut the fire department's overtime budget by $436,000. There were cuts to the police department, a few positions were cut there and the overtime budget was trimmed by $150,000. Another major cut was the elimination of the director of human resources position. Two public works department positions were also eliminated.

You spoke with the town administrator, trying to put this into context. Has the town ever seen a cut like this?

According to his research, and he went back about 10 years, no; this is the largest in that period and maybe the largest ever. So it's a pretty significant cut.

With the closing of the fire station in East Derry, is the department raising any concerns about safety and response times?

Yes. According to Chief Mike Gagnon, response times will be going from around four minutes to eight minutes, which will affect around 1,000 homes in that East Derry neighborhood.

What was the rationale for closing that station?

That station is closest to the central station, so that can be covered the best by the central station and the other two stations in town. 

What are you hearing from residents?

Over the meetings I've attended over the past few months, the vast majority of residents spoke out against the cuts and were just completely opposed to them. The sentiment is this will affect public safety and could reduce property values. That was at the meetings. There was a smaller contingent that did come to the microphone during those meetings and spoke in favor of the tax cuts. 

Who are those who are backing the cuts?

They tend to be older with kids out of the school system. They have said they are struggling to stay in their homes or they know friends or other residents who are also struggling to stay in their homes because of the high property taxes.

Derry does have relatively high tax rates compared to surrounding towns. Councilors have said this was a long time coming and people have been asking for a rate cut for awhile. This was done was a way to give some tax relief to residents. What will this mean for taxpayers?

According to the town, it's going to provide an average of about $300 a year for the average homeowner. That's a home valued at around $250,000. 

The cuts have been made official. This is a done deal, but the town council is scheduled to meet again Tuesday night. What are you expecting? 

I'm sure there will be some type of turnout. At the last meeting when they did approve the budget, they did not get to the public forum segment, so I'm sure there's some pent up frustration from those people who were not allowed to speak after the vote was taken.

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