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Budget crunch forces Winthrop to lay off police chief

Panel suggests Brookline cut 20 firefighters

Thomas E. Reilly, president of Winthrop's Town Council, discussed painful budget cuts at a meeting last night. Thomas E. Reilly, president of Winthrop's Town Council, discussed painful budget cuts at a meeting last night. (David Kamerman/ Globe Staff)
By Katheleen Conti, Globe Staff and Jenna Nierstedt
Globe Correspondent / February 4, 2009
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A citizens' committee in Brookline recommended that 20 firefighters be let go and Winthrop's town manager announced the layoffs of the police chief and up to seven other department heads last night as communities throughout the state try desperately to deal with budget shortfalls and cuts in local aid.

Yesterday was the first time the Brookline Board of Selectmen heard cost reduction and privatization recommendations from the town's Efficiency Initiative Committee, appointed by the selectmen in June 2008.

The citizens' committee concluded that cuts should be made in the Fire Department because Brookline has more firefighters per 1,000 population than 14 neighboring communities, including Boston, but has a lower-than-average rate of multiple-alarm fires. The panel discussed its reductions at a packed selectmen's meeting at Town Hall.

The committee recommended, however, no change in the minimum of four firefighters per truck. Only Boston and Brookline have universal four-person minimum manning, the committee said.

The Brookline Firefighters Union, Local 950, submitted a statement last night to the board expressing its opposition to layoffs.

"We are below Insurance Services Organization, or ISO, recommended staffing levels to properly protect the town," union officials said. "All studies show that a cut in staffing will lead to increased multiple-alarm fires, firefighter and civilian injuries and deaths, overtime and will cost the town far more than it saves."

The union, citing recommendations from the ISO, said the Fire Department is already seven members short of the 158 appropriated by the town and one fire engine short

The committee did not recommend deductions in the Police Department patrol division, saying Brookline's crime rate is significantly higher than other suburban communities'.

The cuts in Brookline and Winthrop come one week after Governor Deval Patrick slashed $128 million in local aid for municipalities to close a $1.1 billion budget deficit.

Brookline is facing a local aid cut for fiscal 2010 of between $1.7 million and $2.6 million, according to its efficiency committee. Winthrop expects an estimated $2 million cut in fiscal 2010.

Winthrop's interim town manager, Lawrence Holmes, announced the layoff of Police Chief David Goldstein and up to seven other department heads, and proposed closing the library and senior center to make ends meet.

Holmes told the Town Council that his proposed cuts total $523,618. The Town Council can amend the suggested cuts. It will discuss them at a Finance Subcommittee meeting tomorrow night at the senior center, and then take them up for a vote Monday night at the Cummings School. Whatever the council decides, the cuts must be in place by Feb. 14.

"We are in a financial crisis," Holmes told the council in a Town Hall meeting room spilling over with dozens of residents. "It's painful, it's unacceptable. I understand it's heartbreaking to have a library have to close and a senior center that provides the services that they provided to this community for so many years, but I have no other alternative."

Holmes also said the town will probably seek a Proposition 2 1/2 override to cover a projected $2 million deficit for the next fiscal year. Winthrop voters rejected a $1.55 million override in June.

With a $42 million fiscal year budget for 2009, Winthrop started with about $428,000 less than the previous fiscal year, said Thomas E. Reilly, council president. And then, due to a loss of projected revenue, town officials made the decision in November to cut $500,000 from the budget, which led to a four-day workweek at Town Hall and layoffs in the School and Police Departments.

Goldstein's layoff will save $37,962. A portion of his $117,000 salary will be used to pay Lieutenant Terence Delehanty, who has been named lieutenant executive officer, acting in the chief's role. Delehanty's position will not be filled.

Most of the residents present at the council meeting last night expressed outrage at the proposals, mainly blasting Holmes's plan to close the library, and urged the council to reject it. Jim Matarazzo, chairman of Winthrop's Board of Library Trustees, presented the council by e-mail three scenarios to cut the library's hours back without having to close it. Councilors said they would take those proposals into consideration.

Conti reported from Winthrop and Nierstedt from Brookline.

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