DANVILLE — The city of Danville wants to create a monthly "fire fee" that would be paid by residents and businesses and generate more than $1 million in additional revenue for the Danville fire department.
One alderman believes it's a reasonable fee while at least two others predict there will be a backlash from residents and businesses.
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer proposed the new $8 monthly fee during a special budget study session Saturday at city hall as a way to help the city pay for rising personnel and capital costs in the fire department.
Eisenhauer said he has lobbied for continued downsizing of a department with 52 firefighters, including command officers, since 2009. There have been reductions in the number of firefighters in the last several years, but the mayor has unsuccessfully pushed for more. Firefighters' salaries and pension costs have continued to increase, and the department has fire engines that need to be replaced, according to city officials.
So now, Eisenhauer said, he is taking a different approach — one that's been suggested in recent years by some aldermen — in proposing a revenue increase that would go directly to the fire department.
The mayor said the fee would be collected through the city's current sewer and solid waste billing process, so any resident, business or organization getting the combined sewer and solid waste bill would be charged the $8 monthly flat fee.
During Saturday's meeting, Eisenhauer also proposed reinstituting the positions of police chief and fire chief. Several years ago, Eisenhauer created the position of public safety director, a civilian job that oversees both the fire and police departments.
Retired Danville police officer Larry Thomason currently holds the public safety director's position. Eisenhauer said this proposal was not a result of Thomason's performance but has been a recurring suggestion from aldermen and members of both departments.
The mayor's calls for a fire fee and replacing of the public safety director position were both part of the city's budget proposal that aldermen and city officials reviewed at Saturday's meeting.
Eisenhauer said a resolution proposing the $8 fee will be brought to aldermen separate from and prior to the budget proposal, so it would be approved or defeated prior to the final draft of the budget.
City administration officials estimate there would be 10,816 residences and 1,125 commercial entities being billed the extra $8 a month. That would generate about $1,066,000 annually, they said.
Alderman Steve Foster believes it's a fair fee.
"You can't have something for nothing," he said, referring to the fire department.
Alderman Rickey Williams Jr. said he questions whether the fee addresses the most important issue in the fire department — the increase in salaries and pensions. Eisenhauer said this new revenue stream would not go toward fire pensions, which are paid by property taxes.
Whether it's a tax or a fee, Williams said, the bottom line is that it's an increase in what citizens will pay the city.
"I think this doesn't solve our problems, and people won't like it," Williams said.
Alderman Bill Black believes it's a reasonable idea but expects it won't be popular with everyone. Black said it's been his experience that the more money that goes into a department's operations, the more money that department will spend.
"I will keep an open mind on this," he said, "but I think there will be pushback."