Now and Again: Opening a can of worms

Friday, March 24, 2006

Suffering from writers block, I've had a hard time coming up with a topic for my column. It seems what I write doesn't provoke any controversy or letters to the editors like others run in the Chronicle Times. What fun is that?

So I've decided to pick on our current city council to see what kind of feathers I can ruffle.

Some of you may have read my article covering the city council meeting where the fire department was on the line, again. I was filling in for Ken Ross at this particular meeting so it was my first encounter with this city council and administrator.

In the article, I wrote extensively about recommendations from a gentleman on what steps the council and city should take to prevent the fire department from being on the line, again, next year at this time.

Now, here is where I get to pick on the council. The gentleman made many excellent suggestions. However, my impression of council members was that they were less than enthusiastic about taking the advice and acting on some of those recommendations.

So now what? Is the city and its fire department going back to square one this time next year? Probably unless citizens from the community get after the council members to act.

The question arose as to why our fire department can't be all volunteer. Apparently there are other towns of our size that operate on an all volunteer fire department. Well, apparently no one was listening when the gentlemen talked about how a fire department operates, depending not only on population but on many other factors.

Do towns of the same size have major institutions to protect like the Mental Health Institute, Tyson, HyVee Distribution, grain elevators, large churches (some being historic), the Cherokee Regional Medical Center ... shall I continue? Which would our wise council members rather have. A department that can respond in one minute or one that takes 15 minutes to respond? I am fairly certain those who elected you to office prefer the one minute time response.

It's my understanding that the salaries the council is trying to save by going to all volunteer is only a fraction of the cost of operating the department. The members of the fire department have done a tremendous job of rounding up grants and funds for new equipment that is up to code, as well as vehicles needed for their heroic work.

They have saved the city multiples of thousands of dollars by making those efforts. Where would our budget be if they had not made those efforts and the department was required to have that equipment? If the council thinks things are tight now try paying for that equipment out of the city's pocket.

I have to admit attending the council meeting was a real eye opener for me. It is a sharp contrast to the Marcus City Council which is my regular beat. I had no idea that two city governments could operate in such contrasting ways.

If the city is looking to save money in the budget perhaps they should evaluate the need for a city administrator who continually asks for more money for himself and as far as I can tell hasn't done much to earn what he currently gets. Ouch! Did I write that out loud? I'm not the only one who feels that way, I can assure you.

Our city administrator makes more money than the two paid firemen combined and they have saved the city money with their grant writing efforts. It just doesn't make sense. Instead of talking about how towns of our size have all volunteer fire departments, perhaps we should be talking about towns of our size who don't have a city administrator.

There I've done it. I've ruffled the feathers and opened yet another can of worms. I'll be expecting some response.