Budget won’t include new firefighter positions

By Phil Major | Published Sunday, August 22, 2010

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With more projects than money to fund them, the Decatur City Council massaged its 2011 budget Wednesday but decided to trim the wish list until the economy improves.

The council tried to include three additional firefighter positions. But after considering that those positions would still be in the budget next year, they decided to leave money in reserve instead.

The council had targeted two major public safety expenses to try to squeeze from the remaining funds, after agreeing to a 2 percent staff pay raise. Police Chief Rex Hoskins requested three new police cars. No cars were replaced in last year’s budget. And Fire Chief Mike Richardson asked to expand paid fire fighting staff by three positions.

But after Hoskins reduced his request to two cars, stipulating that the third would be bought with current funds, the council agreed to play it safe.

Council member Dana Clinesmith said the reports she has seen indicate another year of a slow economy.

“This makes me nervous,” she said of spending all available funds.

Finance director Brad Burnett said that if the new positions remain in the budget, and revenues are flat next year, that would leave very little for the city to consider projects or pay raises.

Richardson was quizzed whether it was feasible to add fewer than three firemen. He said the department’s target of six paid firemen per shift (18 total) needs to be attained in threes, to cover each shift. It would be better to add none than one or two, he said.

He added that he will renew his request each year until the department is up to standards.

The council plans to take one more look at the budget at 5 p.m. Monday. A special meeting will be held Aug. 30, and adoption is scheduled Sept. 13.

The council did agree that the current property tax rate of 64 cents per $100 valuation will be adequate to fund operations.

One staff position that has been vacant will be filled in the new budget – an inspector for the development services department.

Other items the council agreed to fund were carpet for the library and roof repair for the development services office.

Some video systems in older police cars will also be replaced.

Employee health insurance costs increased 12.7 percent, less than the 20 percent increase that had been anticipated, which helped fund some items.

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