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February 7, 2012

Half of Jeffersonville Fire Department overtime budget already gone

Fire chief says $43,000 of allotted money was spent in December

JEFFERSONVILLE — It’s only February but the Jeffersonville Fire Department has already run through more than half of its overtime budget for the year.

As of Monday, there was only $92,000 left in that fund and the department is paying two firefighters overtime each day in order to maintain contractually required staffing levels.

To be fair, Fire Chief Eric Hedrick said, about $43,000 of the overtime budget was spent in December. He wants to hire four more firefighters in an effort to stop the bleeding but the Jeffersonville City Council — who would have to fund the new hires — isn’t on board yet.

A discussion of the situation took place during the council’s meeting Monday night. No action was taken but the council did discuss the formation of an informal committee to find a solution to the problem.

Hedrick said the department has to maintain a staffing level of 19 firefighters on duty. Having fewer on duty or shutting down a firehouse or a truck would be a violation of the department’s union contract, he said.

“I don’t think we can afford not to staff appropriately,” he  said. “We have to have 19 per day.”

Council members didn’t see hiring new people as a way to solve the problem — at least not in the short term.

“To hear that we’re halfway through our budget and we’re only one month in — regardless of how you shake it we only have so much,” said Councilman Dennis Julius.

Even if the council did agree to make the hires, “we’re going to be out of money before we get them online,” Julius said. “We have to get together, sit down and come to conclusions immediately.”

Hedrick said some changes have already been adopted to move administrative people into active roles, but hiring four new firefighters would “take the pressure off the overtime really quickly.”

“It’s better to pay a new guy straight time than a senior guy time and half,” he reasoned.

Councilwoman Lisa Gill noted the city still hasn’t received its approved budget order from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. The council creates a budget, then submits it to the state, which typically sends it back to the city with cuts.

“Until we get our budget from the state our hands are tied,” she said. “In the meantime, what can we do?”

For a few seconds council members discussed the formation of a formal committee to decide on the issue. However, council president Ed Zastawny reminded members that if a formal committee was appointed it would have to hold its meetings in public.

Instead the council thanked Hedrick for the information and Zastawny said council members would informally make contact with him on the issue soon.

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