Firefighters protest possible cuts in Danville
DANVILLE — On a very snowy night on Tuesday, more than 30 Danville firefighters and relatives of firefighters braved the weather so they could fill the city council chambers and protest discussion of firefighter cuts.
Assistant Fire Chief Tom Pruitt told aldermen that such discussions are absurd. Pruitt said a few weeks ago Danville aldermen were discussing a fee that would generate money for the department, and now they're talking about cutting firefighters.
"You are stripping us," Pruitt told aldermen and city administration officials at Tuesday night's Danville city council meeting. Pruitt was referring to discussion of future cuts that would be on top of personnel cuts the department has absorbed in the last several years, going from a total of about 60 firefighters to 52.
Jerry Sparks, president of the Danville Firefighters Association, said any further cuts to the department would be detrimental. He said the department responded to 65 building fires last year, and current staffing levels must be maintained.
The discussion among aldermen is part of the overall budget discussions that started last month when Mayor Scott Eisenhauer presented a first draft of a possible budget for the next fiscal year that would begin May 1. City administration officials are anticipating a $1 million shortfall in the city's general fund for next fiscal year.
Eisenhauer's first draft included a flat $8 monthly fee for residences, businesses and organizations that would generate more than $1 million in revenue for the fire department, which is funded out of the general fund.
But at last week's meeting of the city council's public services committee, aldermen asked city administration for numbers on other options that included personnel cuts as a way to makeup the deficit rather than just a new fee. Two of those requests included:
— A reduced monthly fee and eliminating the proposal to create the positions of police chief and fire chief. Currently, Danville has a public safety director for far less than two positions would cost.
— And a reduced monthly fee along with cuts in the fire department.
So at Tuesday night's meeting, city administration presented more information on its proposal for a monthly fee and no cuts and on the other two requests from aldermen.
— City administration has revised its flat fee proposal into a monthly tiered fee proposal that would be based on the "roof-top square-footage" of buildings, not their total square footage. The base fee would $7.75 a month for buildings zero to 5,000 square feet. The fee would increase by $2 with every additional 5,000 square feet. So a building with roof-top square-footage between 5,001 and 10,000 would pay $9.75 a month. Eisenhauer said the monthly fee would be capped at $35, no matter how large the rooftop. Eisenhauer said that tiered fee would still generate a little more than $1 million per year.
— The second option, based on requests by aldermen, calls for cutting the proposal for a police chief and fire chief. Those positions would cost the city at least $238,000 a year. Eisenhauer said a reduced tiered fee with a $6.50 base, $3 increment per 5,000 square feet and $35 cap would generate $916,000. That revenue combined with eliminating extra expenses for a police chief and fire chief would make up the $1 million shortfall.
— The third option, based on requests by aldermen, calls for eliminating the police chief and fire chief proposal and cutting 10 current firefighter positions and creating a monthly tiered fee with a $3.50 base, $2.50 increment per 5,000 square feet and a $35 cap. Eisenhauer said the fee would generate $516,000 and combined with personnel cuts would cover the $1 million shortfall.
Some aldermen also have suggested making personnel cuts in other city departments, so the mayor also gave aldermen Tuesday night a spreadsheet listing the city's more than 260 employees and how their positions are funded. Eisenhauer said aldermen can meet in closed session Saturday morning to discuss possible cuts in all departments. Aldermen agreed to meet at 8 a.m. Saturday in closed session to do that.
Alderman Bill Black said he has had no one in his ward support the proposed fee, and people in his ward can afford it.
"I can't promise there won't be any layoffs. We've got to find $1 million," he said.
Black said he believes there are several city positions that could be cut, but he also believes that public safety is the city's number one priority, and it should be funded to the highest level the city can afford.
"I'd like to come down here Saturday and start digging," he said.