TOWN OF POUGHKEEPSIE – The Arlington Fire District Board of Commissioners will host a virtual public hearing on the proposed $19.8 million 2021 operating budget for the county’s largest fire department tonight (Tuesday) at 7:30 p.m. Individuals interested in viewing or participating in the Zoom meeting can find the instructions at www.afd.org.
The district’s only financial support comes from fire district taxes with no sales tax revenue or other funds provided to the operation. The proposed budget calls for a 7.99 percent increase over the 2020 budget, equaling a rate of $6.40 per $1,000 of assessed value for property owners.
The president of the career firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 2393, Lieutenant Joe Tarquinio noted that his 80 professional firefighters made sacrifices to help the district keep the tax increase to a minimum. “We sat with the board and renegotiated a five-year contract that saves the district money. The lieutenants and captains are taking a pay cut and the firefighters will not receive any raises for the next four years.” The veteran firefighter also noted that his members, under the renegotiated contract, deferred a two percent raise until the end of the new five-year agreement.
Historically, one of the biggest costs to the district is overtime, which is needed for proper staffing around the clock. Until the new contract was ratified, firefighters were eligible to, and many did retire, without providing advance notice, forcing officials to bring manpower in at overtime rates. The new contract eliminates the ability of eligible members to retire during the next three years, allowing for proper scheduling.
Arlington firefighters respond to 6,000 calls for service annually and Chief Bill Steenbergh said that since being promoted to chief, he has dedicated his efforts to providing extraordinary service at minimal cost to the taxpayers. “I have been working with the union to find ways to streamline the department while continuing to provide an exceptionally high level of service and being fiscally responsible at the same time.”
Steenbergh and Tarquinio both noted that by working together with the board on the contract and the budget, they have been able to reduce the burden of “legacy costs” such as buyouts and retirement costs in order to ease the burden on the taxpayers.
Budgets for all taxing jurisdictions in the state have been impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic and Arlington was subjected to additional costs this year. During the height of the pandemic, the district took several precautions to prevent firefighters from contracting the virus by initiating safety protocols. The extra efforts included expenditures for Personal Protective Equipment and sanitizing devices to keep the rigs and gear clean. All of those needed supplies negatively impacted the current budget, according to Chief Steenbergh.