Money stalls Oak Harbor Fire Department plan

Oak Harbor Fire Department Chief Mark Soptich’s request to reorganize the fire department at a cost of $118,000 is now under the scrutiny of City Finance Director Doug Merriman.

Soptich’s request received a lukewarm reception from the City Council earlier this month. While council members welcomed a plan that would improve the department, they were leery of its cost.

The council sent the request back to city staff so a funding source could be identified.

“Right now $118,00 is not available,” Merriman told the public safety standing committee Tuesday morning at a meeting focused on the reorganization. Merriman suggested city staff look at funding it in pieces.

“We need to establish the bones and framework of the restructure, then identify what funding is available now and what’s available later,” he said.

Mayor Jim Slowik openly supported the chief’s proposal at the meeting Tuesday.

“It’s been a prickly problem and a lot of emotions have gotten in the way, but this happens to be a particular plan I like,” he said.

In response to Councilman Rick Almberg’s suggestion that there should have been a “plan B” as a fall-back, Slowik defended the current plan as a pared-down version of the original proposal that began at more than double the current cost.

“We started at $250,000. This is more like plan E or F or G,” he said. “It has been a very difficult process to get to this level.”

Slowik is optimistic about funding for the current reorganization.

“I do think we are close on the funding part of it,” he said.

Chief Soptich suggested that cost saving measures implemented this year could cover the reorganization’s cost for 2010. But the following year, the department would find itself again in need of funding, he said.

The fire department reorganization will go before the finance standing committee on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, and return to the public safety standing committee, Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7 a.m. at the Oak Harbor Fire Department. The City Council will revisit the issue at its Dec. 1 meeting at 6 p.m at City Hall.

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 position.

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.

“It has not kept up with the growing demands of our community,” Soptich told the City Council earlier this month.

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