The Cherokee City Council will make a decision Tuesday on whether or not to eliminate two driver/dispatcher positions from the fire department. The council will also consider whether or not to replace a police department vacancy.
City council members met in special session for three hours Thursday evening and eliminated a total of $55,225 from the proposed general fund budget. If no further cuts are made, the city will retain about $10,500 in funds at the conclusion of the next fiscal year on June 30, 2007, down from an estimated $75,000 at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30 of this year.
"The question is, do we want to cut it that close?" Dwight Varce, council member, asked.
If the city wants to spend no more than the revenue brought in for the year, something over $60,000 more would have to be cut (or revenues added).
The general fund covers the operation of the police department, fire department, parks and recreation, the library and city hall. The city levies the maximum allowed for the general fund. The city can set utility fees at whatever amount is needed to cover expenses but none of these fees, nor road use funds from the state can be diverted for a general fund purpose.
According to Ron Strickland, city administrator, the city now pays about $105,200 yearly in wage expenses for the fire department. This includes $62,000 for the salary of the two drivers, $3,500 in overtime, $5,200 in part-time fees and $34,500 for benefits.
Prior to the current year, Jack Olson, was given a part-time salary as chief. He continues to serve as chief but no longer receives a salary.
Strickland estimates that eliminating the two drivers and hiring a full-time chief at a salary of $40,000 plus $17,000 in benefits would save the city $48,200.
Mick Mallory, council member, suggested that the city won't get a chief for a salary of $40,000.
Roger Frisbie, treasurer for the fire department, agreed and questioned what good it would do to hire a chief. Frisbie said the chief won't be cleaning hose and cleaning air packs or drive, the way the two driver/dispatchers do now.
Varce suggested that the employee doesn't necessarily have to have the title of chief.
Frisbie said that a person can either be a driver or take command of the fire scene, not both.
Mallory questioned why deep cuts are being considered only for the fire department but none of the other departments are being considered for comparable cuts.
Strickland said the other departments are in a different situation. Strickland said there is documentation that towns of similar size or larger than Cherokee operate a totally volunteer fire department.
"You can't have an all-volunteer street department," Strickland said.
"If we cut the fire department, will we still be in the same situation next year?" Bob Leach, council member, asked.
"Not as deep," Strickland responded.
Steve Schuck, police chief, told the council that he doesn't recommend reducing the police department below eight officers (including himself) plus a secretary/matron.
The Cherokee Police Department has 24/7 coverage, although the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department does not. Schuck said that to have part of the day relying on an off duty officer who is on call, would lengthen response time and increase overtime.
It was noted that Schuck, who is salaried and doesn't earn overtime, worked more than 500 hours extra by Dec. 31, the first half of the fiscal year.
When asked about the DARE program, Schuck said the program was definitely worthwhile. Schuck said the current meth epidemic is worse than anything he's seen before. "I don't see an end to it," he added.
Regarding the purchase of Explorers for the Police Department, Schuck said that the police department used to purchase Crown Victorias that didn't get much different gas mileage than the Explorers and the Crown Victorias were pretty much junk after three years of use, getting very little trade-in value.
Schuck said it's much more cost effective to use a four-wheel drive vehicle.