New Fire Chief Raymond Senecal was pulled unknowingly into the sea of politics at Monday’s City Council meeting.
It was a sparring match between Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo and Finance Director Deb DeGenova, but the two never exchanged a word.
Instead, they both spoke to Senecal — one urging him to defend her side, the other pointing out flaws in his argument.
For Senecal, it was a somewhat surreal experience.
“It was kind of odd,” he said.
Perazzo had asked him to the City Council meeting to explain why he needs the deputy chief that was cut out of the budget last year.
Naturally, he thought that meant the council wanted to discuss reinstating the position.
So he was taken by surprise when some council members asked him to detail exactly how much unspent money was in his budget, and in which budget lines. He had intended to simply explain why the position was important — he hadn’t done a financial analysis.
Still, he seemed to win over the council as he explained the need for a deputy chief to focus on training.
Then DeGenova said the Fire Department has had so much overtime that it will likely finish the year in the red.
And Mayor Gary McCarthy interrupted Senecal to warn off the council.
“Let’s be clear: The administration is not asking for this position to be reinstated,” he said.
Suddenly, most of the council wasn’t so interested in adding a deputy fire chief anymore.
To Senecal, it seemed he’d been called on the carpet over a position he hadn’t even asked for, though he does want it.
“It wasn’t from our request. Leesa Perazzo asked me in,” he said Tuesday.
But he was eager to argue for the position.
“We certainly need it, without a question,” he said.
There were deeper political waters at work.
Perazzo fought hard for the deputy position during the budget process last year, but the majority of the council wouldn’t support it due to a lack of funds.
Council members did agree to revisit the issue during the year, if there was unspent money in the budget. So Perazzo called Senecal in to discuss the need for the position.
“It was the council’s promise,” Perazzo said Tuesday. “I’m going to be the squeaky wheel on this.”
For the typical homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000, adding a deputy chief would cost just $4 in taxes a year, she added.
But she’s going up against McCarthy and DeGenova, who is closely guarding the budget.
The council had considered cutting some money from the self-insured health costs budget and using it to pay for the deputy fire chief.
Perazzo said she is now “absolutely” in favor of using that surplus, if there is any.
But DeGenova argued against it then and is still opposed to it.
The city spent 40 percent of its health costs budget in the first six months of the year, she said Tuesday.
“You wouldn’t want to be much lower or higher,” she said. “I would not say there is money there to be had.”
Perazzo said she’s not giving up the fight. And she may have an ally: Senecal said he would “probably” ask the council again, near the end of the year, when he has a better idea of how much money the department will need to get through the year.
He’s hoping there’s enough of a surplus to pay for a deputy then.
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