DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council is one step closer to approving the fire department’s proposal to hire five more firefighters over the next year to avoid rising overtime costs.
The proposal is expected to be voted on at the next City Council meeting. Mayor Kris Povlsen said he anticipates the proposal will be approved because it has been vetted in previous meetings.
In his presentation to the City Council on Monday, Interim Fire Chief Eric Hicks said the additional manpower will allow the department to avoid paying overtime if a firefighter calls in sick or is hurt.
“We don’t have to worry about ... if someone calls in sick on the 20th of June, we’re not paying overtime,” Hicks said.
Taking into account vacation days, sick days and Kelly days reduces the number of firefighters on a shift between 10 and 12 firefighters, depending on the day.
The new hires would bump up the number of firefighters available to between 13 and 14. Fifth Ward Alderman Ron Naylor and Povlsen both wondered why this isn’t the case already.
“We have a staffing level of 15 or 16, and you have three people off or four people off that brings you down to 11,” Hicks said. “You have the two Kelly days – a vacation day – and that’s what’s there. We have to supply those days, so that automatically takes you down to that level number.”
The proposal would increase the department’s staffing levels to 17 firefighters per shift plus two swing-shift firefighters/paramedics. Swing-shift firefighters would be assigned to their shifts after regular-duty firefighters pick their vacation days. Hicks said having those two swing-shift firefighters will allow the department to save on overtime costs.
Fourth Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher indicated his support in the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
“As we approach $1 million in overtime costs, I think it’s a necessary improvement to the fire department to add on additional employees,” Gallagher said. “I think the swing shift is a creative way to do so, and I think we can recoup $200,000 per year with this.”
The city expects to save between $180,000 and $211,000 per year in overtime costs if the proposal is approved. The city has projected it will spend $3.8 million in overtime if the fire department maintains current staffing levels until fiscal 2017.
But if the firefighters are hired by the beginning of fiscal 2014, the city expects to save $817,000 over the next five fiscal years, even as the costs in wages, pensions and insurance rise as a result of the new hires.
The city will not see the savings immediately because the process of hiring firefighters can take anywhere between six and eight months. Povlsen said the City Council will have to vote on different pieces of the proposal as the process moves forward.
DeKalb firefighters available per day are considered low by two different standards from the International City/County Management Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The city’s number of firefighters dropped via attrition as the nation was hit by the 2008 economic crisis.
The City Council also approved a number of contracts and spending items at Monday’s meeting as part of the city’s budget for fiscal 2013.