The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 8, 2014

Talks center on fire dept. revolve around fire dept.

Firefighter spot removed from agenda

The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE — Aldermen will meet at 8 this morning in another special budget study session.

City council members were again discussing the proposed city budget for fiscal year 2014-2015. Discussions are still largely centered around the fire department. Out of possible scenarios to continue funding a fire department, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer is not advocating cutting 10 firefighters as one scenario had laid out.

Eisenhauer now is recommending to aldermen the city go back to fire and police chief positions and have a monthly fire safety fee of $6.50 as a base that increases $3 more for every 5,000 square feet of roof top with a $35 cap. This offsets a $1 million budget deficit and doesn’t eliminate any firefighter positions for next year.

The fee would begin May 1, with council approval, for businesses and residents to see the fee placed on garbage and sewer bills. The city must meet some deadlines, however, to meet the May billing cycle.

In addition to implementation of a tiered fire safety fee, Eisenhauer also is recommending a sustainability analysis of the fire division to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2014. He said a committee would be appointed to discuss statistical data, with assistance from the University of Illinois, to impartially and not emotionally determine how the fire department should look in the future.

“I’ve made it very clear that I’m not sure the number (of firefighters) we have today is an appropriate number,” Eisenhauer said.

A 2012 National Fire Protection Association report says the average number of firefighters per 1,000 people for a full-time fire department in the Midwest region was 1.03, Eisenhauer said. Based on that average, Danville should have 34 firefighters.

“I think our number needs to be higher than that,” Eisenhauer said.

City employees disagree on what the number should be. That’s why Eisenhauer wants the analysis to look at the department’s long-term sustainability.

He said it’s premature to talk about all the cuts that should and shouldn’t be made in the budget before thoroughly examining through community dialogue and full data analysis what is the appropriate number of firefighters and fire stations that will ensure service be provided.

The city also has to look at long-term financial sustainability.

A group of firefighters attended the city council meeting earlier this week to show their opposition to any firefighter or fire station cuts.

There also is a lot of support for the fire department in the community, including a Save the Firefighters Facebook page and a petition containing hundreds of signatures.

A first meeting to discuss a new Local 429 firefighters union contract is set for next week. The contract expires on April 30.

The city won’t be filling in an opening on the fire department next week, however. An appointment for a probationary firefighter candidate was removed from the agenda for the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. The meeting was rescheduled from earlier this week due to the snow.

Firefighter Pam Hawker retired and the firefighters’ contract has minimum manning set at no less than 51 in fire suppression. Hawker’s retirement leaves 50 firefighters.

Eisenhauer said based on comments from a member of the bargaining unit, “we are now under the impression they have waived our necessity to fill that” position.

“We didn’t disagree with the assessment …” Eisenhauer said. “I perceived his comments to be a waiver of our requirements to fill that position.”

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Assistant Fire Chief Tom Pruitt questioned why the city was still moving forward with the hiring when cuts were also being talked about.