Friday, June 29, 2018
By David Skolnick
Fire Chief Barry Finley has a long-term plan for raising revenue for his department, but none of it will go into effect this year.
That means funding an increase in overtime in the department for 2018 is still unresolved. But it will be addressed by city council at a finance committee meeting today.
The options remain using most of an $85,000 fund to replace the rusted frame of a firetruck or closing stations on a rotating basis and using the three or so firefighters who would work there at other stations to make up for a staffing shortfall to save overtime.
The finance committee last week opposed using the truck repair funding and opted to have the department close stations on a rotating basis starting June 21.
But after a June 20 evening phone conversation with Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th and chairwoman of the finance committee, Finley called off the shutdown.
There is confusion and conflicting stories about how the decision was made with an allegation from Law Director Jeff Limbian of an illegal council meeting, which council members deny.
Finley’s long-term plan includes collecting new revenue beginning in January and a city-run ambulance starting no sooner than two years from now.
But after hearing the plan at a council safety committee meeting Thursday, McNally said she favors using the $85,000 in truck repair money for overtime.
Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th and vice chairwoman of the finance committee, said she backs the plan to close stations on a rotating basis to pay for overtime.
The 127-member department has eight firefighters off duty with injuries and has used about $100,000 of its overtime budget of $108,000 this year, Finley said. The department will hit its budgeted amount for annual overtime in a week or so, he said.
Finley told the safety committee Thursday it would be a mistake to forfeit a federal grant that is currently paying the majority of the salaries of four firefighters and permanently close a station now because it would almost certainly result in the department not receiving any other federal grants for the next three to six years.
The current grant, obtained last year, expires in fall 2020. At that point, the department can close a fire station, Finley said.
“We could effectively do our job closing down one truck and one station,” he said.
The station he recommended to close is No. 7 at 141 Madison Ave., near the Youngstown State University campus.
City officials have talked about consolidating that station with the No. 1 downtown station for a couple of years, and Finley said he favors that plan.
There wouldn’t be any layoffs if a station is closed in 2020, Finley said, with an average of seven department members retiring annually starting that year.
The other parts of Finley’s long-term plan include: charging fees for various permits such as fire-suppression plans, sprinkler-system testing and fire-alarm testing as well as creating a fire and EMS training academy with YSU and charge tuitions for those taking classes there.
The permit policy will go into effect Jan. 1, but Finley said it would be up to YSU when the academy would be established.
He couldn’t say Thursday how much revenue the new policies would generate.