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City Manager Sam Sutherland expressed concern that while the positive balance on the city’s General Fund makes it look as if Portsmouth is flush with cash, there are other things to consider, “Right now we are set up where we are deficit spending a little bit. The state has informed me we have to tweak that or they are not going to let us out. (of fiscal emergency status) Right now, even with the balance we got, we’ll start hitting borderline about 2027.” He acknowledged that the Fire Department is busy, “I hear you running calls all night long.”
The chief said he personally frequently responds to medical calls due to short staffing. It’s increasingly difficult to pass calls off to private ambulance companies because the chief says, “They are dealing with their own issues. We can’t rely on private for-profit ambulance companies with no obligation to the City of Portsmouth. They have their own staffing issues.”
He said many people think most of their calls are related to overdoses, but that’s not the case. “It’s probably less than 10%.”
Council members discussed various options like public education to reduce misuse of EMS services, the possibility of additional private ambulances coming to town but no real alternatives to alleviate the situation were settled on.
Sutherland said the state auditor monitoring the Portsmouth budget said the fire plan could work but may need some changes. He hopes to meet with the auditor by mid-October. Sutherland said he thought he could have a response from the state by the next council meeting.
Council Vice President Sean Dunne said he would like to wait for input from the state before making the decision. The rest of the council agreed.
“Your financial numbers are what you look at to make a decision,” the chief said. “My workload is what I look at, the risk to the community. Somewhere those have to meet.”