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Firefighters’ overtime funding questioned

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 by Jo Clifton

At Tuesday’s work session, City Council discussed whether to approve a transfer of $3.5 million from the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund to provide the the Fire Department with additional overtime funds. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan pulled the item for discussion. Flannigan said the 2007 resolution establishing what is called four-person staffing on fire emergency vehicles “did not establish four-person staffing for all crews or all stations, but that level was reached as a result of a federal grant, which has now expired. So the question is should we maintain the federal grant-driven staffing or should we return to the 2007 resolution staffing, which has some four person crews.” He said if the city has multiple teams at one station, returning to the 2007 resolution would modify the number of team members required and save overtime money. So Flannigan said he wants to know whether the city could go back to that previous level of staffing between now and September. Obviously, the change could not be done immediately and there is a question about how long it would take to revamp the teams. However, Flannigan thinks it’s worth the exercise. “If we could save $500,000 or $250,000 and have this discussion leading into the next budget, it would be useful,” he said, noting that he is concerned about the city’s reserves. Council Member Delia Garza, a former firefighter, argued against changing the staffing, saying it would endanger both firefighters and the community. The Fire Department has experienced a higher than anticipated number of retirements in the past year and has not been able to add as many firefighters to the force as are needed to fill those jobs. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo told Council the city has the money in the reserve fund. The conversation will continue at Thursday’s abbreviated Council meeting.

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