Archive for Thursday, February 7, 2008

Council settles on full-time for fire chief

February 7, 2008

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.


baldwinfan 10 years, 2 months ago

I would be glad to be a fire chief, but don't have the experience. At $40K, are we going to get someone with any experience?

On another note, I've read that we need more volunteer firefighters. I have never seen any requests for more help other than one line in the paper. Maybe we could get an article in the paper to explain more about the fire department including how many volunteers are needed, the training required to become a volunteer, and the budget situation for the fire department.


Monkey 10 years, 2 months ago

If you would like to get experience, come join the fire department. We are always looking for hard working responsible people. The 1st monday of the month at 7:30 is the departments business meeting and the 3rd tuesday of the month is Training, There is usually someone there on Sundays after 10 till about 12 or 1 cleaning the station, doing training and checking in equipment. Anyone interested is more than welcome to come down.


TheOnlyGreyghost 10 years, 2 months ago

I, too, am concerned about who (if anyone) they're going to get for $40K. Earth to Mr Brecheisen and Mr Jardon... Get real! If taxes need raised to pay for fire protection, I can't think of any better reason! In fact, I'd feel a lot better about paying a reasonable rate for a dedicated fire chief than I do about paying through the nose for mediocre (though slowly improving) electrical service.

How about this: we lower everybody's electric bill by $60 a month, bringing the rate in line with the quality of the service, and channel the same amount of money into a fund to pay a decent salary for a fire chief.

(And speaking of that $60 per month-- Mr Wagner, when you throw that number at taxpayers, telling them that's what it would cost each household to pay a fire chief, is that number based on actual research or was it pulled out of ... um... the air?

If it was researched--fine--I'm sure you'll have something to back that up. If not, it would be very irresponsible to throw a number out there with the apparent objective of discouraging people from supporting the paid position. I'm seeing a lot of hesitation in your comments (above), and it sounds like you may have been trying to bias people's responses when you asked their opinion.


Jason Mock 10 years, 2 months ago

GG, I did a little research into that $60 figure that Wagner was citing as the cost per unit (household or individual he did not specify) for a full time fire chief. US Census data from 2000 (most recent available) shows 1,165 housing units in Baldwin City. The mill levy being based on that, a $60,000 could cost each household in the neighborhood of $60. Granted since 2000 we have seen significant development, pushing the total number of household units up, and therefore the cost per unit down.

The counter argument in favor a professionalized fire department would be that it would push the city's overall fire protection rating up, and therefore lower property insurance. Would it lower it $60~ a month? Hard telling


Monkey 10 years, 2 months ago

The Current Fire Rating is an ISO 4. The city droped from a 7. 1 being the best and very hard to come by. The only bad thing about it is the insurance companies put 1-7 in one group and 8, 9,10 in their own seperate groups. If you call the insurance company you will most likely find that Commercial is the only one that benefits from the drop. However if we were a an 8 and droped to a 7 you would see a decrease. However if you see a decrease in your payment for a drop from a 7 to a 4 let me know I would like to switch insurance companies.


TheOnlyGreyghost 10 years, 2 months ago

Thank you for your posts, Jason and Monkey, and for taking the time to do the research. Personally, I believe that even if it were $60/month, it would be well worth it. A lot of people can't see the value in something until they need it personally and it isn't there.

Monkey--IMO, insurance companies are simply a legal branch of organized crime. Any angle they can find to stick it to us while increasing their profit margin, they will use.

What's sad about all this, is that people write that check (or don't even think about it, as it's bundled in with their mortgage, and the bank writes the check) to the insurance company each month, meekly accepting whatever unholy act the insurance company sees fit to commit against their backside, but the minute the city or county or school district floats the idea of a small increase, the same people scream bloody murder.

If people would organize against insurance companies' carte blanche on raping, pillaging, and plundering us and would demand that lawmakers drastically overhaul the laws that make that that possible, we'd all have more money to go around for such luxuries as a fire chief, maybe some firefighters, better wages for teachers (which would attract a better selection of candidates for job openings), etc.

A grotesquely lopsided percentage of our money is vacuumed up by various insurance policies. God forbid we should need to make a claim--we are then punished by being dropped, marginalized, having our rates hiked up, and otherwise being b**ch-slapped to the pavement. How dare anyone interfere with their bottom line? Nobody ever raises the hue and cry about that, or demands reforms. They just squeal when any level of "gubmint" hesitantly tries to raise half a mill or some modest amount for schools or roads.

You hear all kinds of b**ching about how they (school district, city, state..) should clean house and spend smarter instead of raising taxes... Where are these people where the insurance companies are concerned??? The major insurers' red tape, waste, unnecessary expenses, and mismanagement of funds would make any government entity look like Warren Buffet in terms of money-management wisdom.

Oh, Monkey--look what you did! Got me started on the insurance industry.... Together with the tobacco industry (cozy symbiotic relationship there), they're my most hated entity.


Jason Mock 10 years, 2 months ago

Ask the right question to the right people, and you can get the numbers.

Here's the breakdown of how the FTE (Full time employee) in the fire department would have affected the mill levy on our current year's budget (FY2008, based on 2007 assessed valuation):

No FTE in Fire Dept: 30.521 mills ($526.49 city tax on $150K home)

$40K/yr FTE in Fire Dept (the amount budgeted): 32.354 mills ($558.10 city tax on $150K home)

$60K/yr FTE in Fire Dept: 33.197 mills ($572.65 city tax on $150K home)

From no FTE to a $60K/yr FTE, the impact is about $46 per year.

So, its not even $60/month but (in my opinion) a rather slim $46 per year. Not bad if you ask me.


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