Council settles on full-time for fire chief
Baldwin City will have its first full-time, paid fire chief after the Baldwin City Council concluded a month of discussion with a 3-2 vote at Monday night's meeting.
The Baldwin City Volunteer Fire Department has always elected its own chief and for decades that's been Allen Craig. However, that will change in the near future when the chief is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. Craig has declined to comment on the situation publicly.
The council has discussed the fire chief position at the last three council meetings. They've also sent it back to the safety committee and some council members have talked with some volunteers. Still, questions remained, most notably the cost estimated between $40,000 and $60,000.
"I think this is a big decision," said Council Member Ken Wagner, who was not at the last meeting that prompted the matter to be tabled. "Funding a full-time position is a big step. I've really struggled with this decision.
"I do have some concerns if the timing is right on this," said Wagner. "It comes down to the timing of this to me. Regardless of the vote, if it passes I would like to have some considerations. I have talked to some people in the community and everyone likes the idea to have someone. But, when I ask them if it costs them $60 or $70 a month, they cringe at that."
Council President Amy Cleavinger said the numbers that City Administrator Jeff Dingman had obtained from like-sized communities showed that a fire chief could be hired for the $40,000 that was budgeted for the full-time firefighter.
"I feel like as a council we made the commitment to a full-time firefighter," said Cleavinger. "I don't think we're talking about a $60,000 position."
A full-time firefighter was hired for the first time in October for $40,000. However, that didn't work out and he resigned in December. That's when the safety committee came up with the plan for the full-time fire chief.
"Quite frankly, he was the choice of the chief for the position and then that broke down," Dingman said. "I think it was chain of command."
"You can't have two bosses," said Ted Brecheisen Jr., referring to Dingman and Craig. "If he was getting told one thing in this direction and another thing in that direction."
Cleavinger disputed Brecheisen's contention that it was a personality conflict.
"We're not hiring people to be pals and get along," she said. "I don't think 'he didn't get along' is a fair statement."
Mayor Gary Walbrdige brought up another argument to the discussion.
"The reason I support hiring a chief is we currently have someone in charge of taxpayer money that is not an employee of the city," said Walbridge. "It makes sense that that person should be an employee of the city."
Another concern raised was whether the chief and the other volunteers had been consulted.
"It worries me that no one is here," Wagner said of no fire department personnel at the meeting. "I just don't want to intentionally tear up a volunteer organization in this town."
Council Member Tony Brown said there had been discussion with the volunteers and the chief, but there needed to be more.
"There seems to be some question around the table on how much discussion has been done with the current staff and the chief," said Brown. "It's a potential consideration that I wanted to list. I have since talked to Chief Craig. In general, I think he likes the direction."
Ultimately, it came down to cost.
"Basically, you don't want to spend the money?" Walbridge said to Brecheisen.
"No," said Brecheisen.
"I'm willing to accept $40,000, but I'm not in favor of more than that," said Wagner.
Brecheisen made a motion to table the matter again. It failed because of a lack of a second. Cleavinger made the motion to create the full-time fire chief position not to exceed $40,000 salary. It was seconded and passed 3-2 with Brecheisen and Council Member Doyle Jardon, himself a township volunteer firefighter, voting against it.