City OKs increase in paid fire force
It took some discussion last Wednesday, but the Tonganoxie City Council agreed to bulk up the fire department staff next year.
The previous week, during its first 2005 budget study session, the council agreed to increase the police force by one officer and raise part-time officers' wages from $10.40 to $11 an hour.
Last Wednesday, council member Ron Cranor said he was reluctant to add another full-time firefighter to the mix, but finally he and fellow members Velda Roberts and Steve Gumm and Mayor Dave Taylor agreed to bring the full-time staff to three firefighters in 2005. Fellow members Kathy Graveman and Emmett Wetta were not at the study session.
"I think one of our main jobs is to make sure the city has protection -- both police and fire," Taylor said.
Currently, the fire department has two positions -- chief and captain. The chief's salary currently is $35,400, while the captain makes about $27,000.
In the proposed 2005 budget, a third full-time position would be created, with a salary of $23,940. The remainder of the department works on a volunteer basis.
Fire Chief David Bennett presented information to the council about his department's application for a federal grant that would bring on board two more full-time officers.
Cranor said he had no information on the grant possibility before the work session.
"On top of the need for a firefighter you have muddied the water further about two additional people," Cranor said. "This has complicated it further."
Bennett apologized to the council for not providing information about the grant, saying he thought members already had received information about it.
Ideally, Bennett said, cities have a firefighter for every 1,000 people. The third full-time position would satisfy that ratio, as Tonganoxie's population is more than 3,300.
Cranor said that is a goal, but Bennett disagreed.
"That is the legal standard you're going to be held to if it's a problem," Bennett said. "I can bring in experts to prove you wrong."
A former highway patrolman and sheriff's officer, Cranor was more ready to agree with the proposed law enforcement increase. Gumm, however, didn't see a difference.
"How do you justify one and not the other?" Gumm said.
If Tonganoxie is awarded the grant, it would pay a portion of the two new salaries each year. Because the grant is so important and highly competitive, Bennett said he would like for the city to hire a grant-writer for the application.
The council agreed that a grant-writer would be a good option.
"With the grant, that moves Tonganoxie five years down the road," Bennett said. "That makes us proactive instead of reactive."
City Administrator Shane Krull introduced proposed 2005 capital budgets and revenue and expenditures for water and sewer at the meeting, but much of the two-hour session focused on the fire department and salaries.
Roberts again voiced concern about the city's cost of living percentage and the merit pay hike for employees. In the proposed budget, the cost of living adjustment was at 3 percent and merit maximum was at 4 percent.
"I think it is almost in the realm of unconscionable to propose it," Roberts said.
Krull said the city's work force needs to have some incentive to stay, but as for his proposed numbers, he said the council never really has given him direction for those percentage increases. He also noted that just because the merit increase was capped at 4 percent, that doesn't mean employees will receive the full increase, or even any for that matter.
Roberts said the merit increase seemed like more of a "longevity" increase. She proposed that cost of living be set at 3 percent and merit be set at 2 percent. The council then agreed to change the budget accordingly.
In the water budget, revenue was set at a proposed $813,534, while expenditures were at $700,801. In the sewer department, revenue was set at $370,107, while expenditures were at $483,129.
The council will meet again, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. today, in council chambers to discuss more of the proposed 2005 budget.