Council questions cost of reorganizing fire department

Discussion moved to action last week as Oak Harbor Fire Department Chief Mark Soptich asked the City Council for permission to reorganize the fire department at a cost of $118,000.

Under the new plan the department would lose two positions, one part-time and one full-time. The money saved would be negated by the addition of one full-time, seven paid on call and one volunteer positions.

In addition to the new positions, the plan provides a framework for improved personnel management, better-defined individual responsibilities and promotional opportunities for both full-time and paid-on-call personnel, Soptich said.

The city’s growing population, annexations, new construction, increased calls for service, growing number of fire and life-safety inspections and room for an improvement of command duty responsibilities initiated the discussion for a department reorganization, Soptich said.

The old system can no longer safely support the city and the span of control is not really where is should be, he said.

“It has not kept up with the growing demands of our community.”

But there’s one small detail that has yet to get worked into the reorganization: funding.

There’s no room in the Oak Harbor’s biennial budget for that kind of addition without affecting another organization, said city Finance Director Doug Merriman. The proposal worried councilmembers and sparked a lenghthy discussion about how the reorganization may be funded.

If the reorganization is approved, the council would have several options to fund the proposal, Merriman said. Those options may include changes to existing operations or cuts to other areas of the general fund, he said.

But Merriman’s suggestions did little to ease council members’ concerns.

“I don’t have a problem with the reorganization,” Councilman Jim Campbell said. “I’m just concerned ... where can we get funding without — I hate to put it this way — raping another organization.”

Both councilmen Rick Almberg and Bob Severns requested additional time to study the proposal and review possible funding sources.

“I need more time to really digest what the other alternatives are and where the money will come from,” Almberg said. “Is this sustainable? I don’t have any information that supports that at this moment.”

Severns postulated another alternative to support the fire department’s proposed reorganization. The plan itself may have to be tweaked to reduce its cost, he said.

“I’m all in support of this proposal, but I’d like to see it back in committee to identify a source of funds,” Severns said. “I don’t think it’s fair to move forward without going back to staff to figure out the funding part of it.”

The final motion, made by Councilman Danny Paggao, sent the proposal back to city staff, the public safety committee and the finance standing committee for further review.

Councilmen Severns, Almberg, Campbell, Paggao and Eric Gerber voted for the motion that passed unanimously. Council members Beth Munns and Jim Palmer were absent.

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