Council backs new fire jobs

May 07, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ


Hagerstown City Council members tentatively agreed Saturday to include 10 new fire department positions in next year's budget, a first step in fixing a staffing shortage.

Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker has lobbied the council for 18 firefighters and one training captain, either all at once or over two years, to address a shortage he considers "critical."

The council's tentative plan now is to fund 10 positions in 2006-07, and nine the following year.

A majority of the council already had expressed its support. However, Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire had preferred spreading the new positions out over three years instead of two.


But at a special budget session Saturday, Aleshire said he didn't mind the two-year plan because of a proposed one-month delay each year in hiring firefighters, which would save money.

The council has been working for several weeks on the 2006-07 budget, which must be approved by the end of this month. A public hearing is scheduled for May 16.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman has proposed a $134.4 million budget that would increase spending by about 24 percent from this year. A majority of the increase would be for the city's water, sewer and electricity funds.

Whether to hire more employees for the fire and police departments has been one of the larger issues before the council.

Another is whether to fund recommendations of a wage study that indicated city employees are underpaid. Full funding would require close to $5 million over several years. City employees have proposed cutting health insurance benefits as a balance.

Some council members have raised questions about the wage study. Aleshire has said he does not support it.

A majority of the council has vowed not to raise taxes at all, but Metzner has said he would to fund the public safety jobs.

Under Zimmerman's budget proposal, the council would have to raise taxes to pay for the new public safety jobs. It also would have to raise taxes to follow the wage-study recommendations.

The council, though, is looking at possible cuts elsewhere.

One cut was offered Saturday by Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart, who withdrew her request for a new employee to focus on downtown development - although, she said, the position is needed.

Zimmerman asked the council to remember that economic development is an anchor of the budget, which is based on projections of robust growth.

Donna Messina, the city's human resources director, recently withdrew a request for a new position in her department, too.

On Saturday, though, the council agreed to keep a new Planning Department position in the budget.

An outline of the position - assistant zoning administrator - says it would pay $35,693, plus $15,297 in benefits, to start.

Planning Director Kathleen Maher has proposed raising the fees that the city charges to process development plans. Additional revenue from the increases would cover an estimated 68 percent of the cost of the new position, a summary of the plan says.

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