Police, fire, juvenile court submit budgets, requests to commission

Gary B. Gray • May 21, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Johnson City’s police and fire departments, as well as its Juvenile Court, each produced scaled-down budgets to city commissioners Tuesday — budgets that included lots of unfunded needs.

Fire Chief Mark Scott, who has suggested closing Fire Stations 8 and 9 if commissioners choose to make deep cuts, ran through a nearly three hour show-and-tell only to be somewhat assured that a new $475,000 pumper may be coming in the 2015 fiscal year to replace an aging unit.

Commissioners did briefly discuss the cost of stations in Gray and off Carroll Creek Road. They were, however, determined to be too valuable to shut down at minimal savings of around $60,000. But citizens should be reminded: these are workshops.

The questions posed were plenty, and sometimes the answers were not pleasant to deliver.

“There may or may not be money to pay for some of these items,” Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said. “But if you had to prioritize, what would you say?”

“Pumper,” said Scott, whose department faces a roughly $700,000 shortfall in needed capital projects and equipment not included in the 2015 budget.

Van Brocklin also asked Scott to tighten up his equipment replacement schedule and to give more expedient notice to commissioners regarding requests.

The fire department’s proposed budget for 2015 is about $9.2 million. That’s down from this fiscal year’s budget by more than $132,000, or 1.4 percent.

“Our budget has receded, and we need to replace gear,” Scott said. “It’s difficult to cover that.”

Some items not included in next year’s budget include three automatic generators for fire stations ($75,000), the promotion of a second captain for the department’s three shifts ($250,000), 75 new firefighters’ helmets ($18,000) and accreditation through the Center for Public Safety Excellence now held by Kingsport and Bristol, Va., at an undetermined financial cost.

The matter of replacing a fourth fire marshal position, which has been vacant for 5 years, also was discussed. The topic garnered lots of attention, and commissioners had questioned their return on investment if the $55,000 could be found.

“We’ve talked about fire prevention, but at the same time we’re recommending not hiring another fire inspector (fire marshal),” City Manager Pete Peterson said.

Commissioner Jeff Banyas asked if the department charged for inspections.

It does not. And, it remained unclear Tuesday whether the department actually was required to do inspections.

“If we did charge, there’s an avenue to gain some money and fund the position,” Scott said.

The session ended with a lengthy discussion on whether a performance-based raise, a cost-of-living raise, or a combination of both, was the correct way to provide incentives for new firefighters to work their way up the ranks.

Speaking of rank, the department still has no indication of who or when it will hire a new assistant fire chief. The department also plans not to fill two unfunded firefighter positions that have been eliminated.

Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Green led off the evening’s number crunching with a lower budget than the current year. The ever-optimistic Green, still riding high from the opening of the newly renovated court in January, presented a $693,000 budget, down more than $9,000 from the current year, or about 1.3 percent.

Green and her 11 full-time staff do have new digs, but this budget has left them wanting. The court’s personnel costs, which includes insurance and benefits, are projected at $643,522. That’s nearly $3,000 less than the current year. Operating costs for the next fiscal year are just over $49,000, bring the total budget to nearly $693,000, a 1.3-percent drop.

Though the ARRA funds are long gone, Green said the court still is maintaining services and keeping its cooperation level high with law enforcement and schools.

Police Chief Mark Sirois was last in Tuesday’s lineup — no pun intended. For this reason, the Press can provide only some basic numbers handed out at the start of the workshop.

The department is projecting a more than $12.6 million budget in FY 2015, down about $316,000, or 2.4 percent. Equipment not included in the budget are 10 police pursuit vehicles at $29,500 each for a total of $295,000.

Six sworn positions from eliminated positions and $80,000 for a special prosecutor also have been swept off the budget.

Peterson said the coming year’s proposed $76 million budget also threatens to shut down the JCTV government information channel and Legion Street Pool.

Commissioners passed a first reading of the budget on May 1. The second reading and public hearing is set for June 5. A third reading is expected June 19.

Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Gary-B-Gray. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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