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Additional Firefighters Up in the Air

Mount Pleasant trustees will vote on Jan. 14 whether or not to hire two new firefighters included in the 2013 budget.

Whether or not Mount Pleasant hires two new firefighters will be decided when trustees vote at the Jan. 14 Village Board meeting.

The new hires are part of the 2013 budget and are separate from firefighters approved to replace two retiring members of the fire department.

Finance/Legal/License Committee members voted 2-1 on Dec. 20 to send the issue to the full board without the recommendation of the committee. Trustees Harry Manning and Jerry Garski voted in favor, and Trustee John Hewitt dissented.

"I cannot support the motion because I fear for the wear and tear on personnel with all the overtime," he said before casting his vote. 

Manning - chair of the committee - moved first that the hiring be sent to the Village Board without recommendation and that trustees consider waiting until after a new chief is hired. Garski asked Manning to amend his motion to allow the full board the option of waiting for a new chief or not.

"The discussion will be among the Village Board and we should let the full board make the decision about whether or not to wait for the new chief," Garski noted.

Possibly waiting for a new chief did not sit well with South Shore Interim Fire Chief Mark Pierce. He wanted to know what difference it will make waiting for a new chief.

"By waiting for a new chief, does that mean your don’t trust my abilities to act as an interim chief?" he asked. "I’ve been here 33 years, and, quite honestly, I take offense at that, Mr. Manning."

Waiting to hire only means adding to overtime that for the end of 2012 was expected to be up to $500,000 over budget, Pierce pointed out. More overtime also means increased risk of injury and burnout for current staff, he added.

"We’re hemorrhaging overtime so we pay that or we pay straight time," Pierce continued. "We don’t have control over people being injured on the job or residents needing services, but vacant positions we do have control over. Every day that goes by without the new hires is another day is day we spend money on overtime when we don’t have to."

How much will really be saved?

Savings estimates are disputed. Battalion Chief Jon Keiser said two firefighters work about 192 shifts over the course of the year. Overtime costs the village $1,000 a day for a total overtime expenditure of $192,000. Hiring will cost about $170,000 for the year, thereby reducing the overtime expenditure to $22,000. 

But Manning disputed that. He ran some numbers based on 2011 staffing that indicate firefighters operate at about 72 percent, or manned days as statistical shifts that exist and have been worked. Multiplying .72 by 20 shifts a month - 240 for the year - comes to about $173,000 for a savings of only $3,000.

He also didn't agree that the department has to be staffed at 15 per shift when 14 was presented at budget time by SSFD.

"Station 9 is fully staffed so the 2013 budget includes the 15, but that could have been 14 and saved over $356,000 for the year," he said. "The responsible thing to do would be to go to 14 to save that money. One of the duties of the new chief could be looking at limits on spending when we didn’t look at that for 2012."

Pierce pointed out that giving trustees the option of staffing each shift at 14 was only presented as a counter-proposal because trustees were talking about closing Station 7 and redeploying fire fighters so each shift was staffed at 12.

"The 14 was offered as a counter-proposal because this fire department cannot run on 12," he stated.

If the Village Board doesn't hire the two firefighters right away or chooses to wait for a new chief, Pierce wanted to know what would happen to the $170,000 budgeted for those salaries and benefit packages.

"So if we don’t hire, then will the $170,000 be moved into the overtime budget?" he asked. "As a taxpayer, I don’t think it’s right that the Village Board puts out a budget with two new firefighters and then doesn’t hire them."

The Village Board meets at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at Village Hall, 8811 Campus Drive. Call (262) 664-7800.

Chris Larsen January 04, 2013 at 08:53 PM
As a resident of the fire district the South Shore FD encompasses I continue to be amazed by the games played with Public Safety by some on the Mount Pleasant board. They first tried to fix their own financial issues by shorting the contractually obligated levels in Sturtevant, until the Board in Sturtevant put them on notice that enough is enough. Now some in Mt Pleasant want to further reduce staffing and not hire what they already budgeted for. Add to this the games played with capital equipment purchases and you are setting the fire department up for disaster, both in manpower and equipment breakdowns. When will they realize that minimum staffing levels recommended under the McGrath study need to be met? When will they realize that you cant keep kicking equipment purchases down the road that were budgeted for(by both municipalities) two years ago? When will the Mt Pleasant board be held accountable? I would rather they be proactive now and fix the damage that has been done instead reactive after a tragedy.
JACK JACKSON January 05, 2013 at 02:32 AM
Hey Chris, you make some great points! What say does Sturtevant have in their staffing levels?
Chris Larsen January 05, 2013 at 08:02 AM
The contract states that Station 9 (Sturtevant station) will be fully staffed by two crews of 3 at all times.

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