Fire department faces lay-offs amid budget cuts - WRBL

Fire department faces lay-offs amid budget cuts

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

The Columbus Department of Fire/EMS could be facing lay-offs if the city can't find the extra money needed to keep 14 employees on the payroll. The lay-offs could also mean longer response times during an emergency.

Each city department was asked to reduce its budget by 1.5 percent for the next fiscal year.

The fire department needs to cut its budget by $715,000. There are 384 people employed within the department. Fire Chief Jeff Meyer said with about 90 percent of the budget going for personnel, the only way to save about that amount is to let people go. The lay-offs would include firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians. He cautioned the move could jeopardize citizens' safety.

"You may never ever think that your need a firefighter, EMT, or paramedic. But when you do, you can look at your watch and we'll probably get there within four or five minutes," but Meyer also said the department is already operating at a bare minimum. The lay-offs would increase firefighters 25 percent longer to do their job.

Every year, the department responds to 1,000 fires, including 300 structure fires.

Normally, there are 94 personnel on duty per day that could help. The cuts would drop it down to around 90, meaning there are fewer people to respond to calls, which have increased nearly 30 percent over the last five years.

"You got that baseball team and you're only playing with 8 people instead of 9 the odds are you're not going to be as efficient and you're not going to win as many games," said Meyer.

He said the cuts would cause them to decrease the crew members on a fire-truck. Some stations in less-populated areas would be closed. Meyer said all programs would be evaluated to see if they need to be reduced or eliminated... that includes educational classes and training firefighters for water rescues in the swifter Chattahoochee River.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the local-option sales tax, or LOST, which is dedicated to public safety, has kept first-responders from feeling the brunt of the recession's impact. "You see as the stagnant revenues continue, still working through the recession... do have impact." The extra revenue for the fire department could come from the jail reserve fund or LOST money. But, there's only 2.2 million dollars in the reserve and funding the fire department could take from other departments that may need help.

"Reserve funds are meant to be temporary and they're meant to get you over rough patches, but we have to believe that we're seeing the end of the impact of the great recession," said Mayor Tomlinson.

Councilor Gary Allen recommended adding the 14 positions back temporarily while the city figures out where to find the money for the salaries.

Any money from LOST that's used for fire department personnel salaries must have council approval.

A budget must be adopted by July first.

Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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