Voters last May approved a Proposition 2½ override to fund firefighter positions. Now it appears that not all that money that was subsequently approved by Town Meeting will be spent on firefighters; they have to hire them first. So at the end of the fiscal year, or a couple of months after, unspent funds will go into free cash, where the money is up for grabs.
There is nothing wrong with that per se; it’s just the way it works. Unspent money from any department budget except for the schools goes into free cash at the end of the fiscal year. And having free cash is helpful when unanticipated needs arise.
But with last year’s override, there is a whiff of bait and switch to it.
We wonder if a single voter who checked the yes box on that ballot question had an inkling of an idea that firefighters might not be available for hire and some portion of the money would end up paying for something other than staff. We doubt it.
But someone knew or should have known.
As of September, there were still six unfilled positions in the fire department and those were from retirements, resignations or staff out on leave. New firefighters are clearly not easy to come by. It seems availability of firefighters should have been part of the discussion prior to the override vote and the Town Meeting approval of the funds. But it wasn’t.
The override won’t be a burden to most taxpayers. Property taxes in Falmouth are not high compared to many other towns in the state.
But the lack of clarity raises questions about the credibility of our town’s administration. If no one raised the possibility that firefighters might not be hired for some months, what else has been left unexplained?