The Carthage City Council rejected, by an 8-2 vote, an amendment by one member to add more money to the Carthage Fire Department’s allocation in the proposed 2012-2013 budget.
Ward 5 Council Member Ed Hardesty proposed adding $50,000 to the fire department’s vehicle maintenance line in next year’s budget, which was up for first reading at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Hardesty and Ward 4 Council Member Lee Carlson voted for the amendment and the other council members said no.
The final vote on the budget is scheduled for the June 26 council meeting.
Hardesty, a 30-year firefighter himself in the northwestern U.S., made an impassioned plea to council members to consider his amendment in light of voter passage of the quarter-cent fire safety tax in 2011.
That tax is anticipated to bring in $400,000 annually, and part of it has already been allocated for the next three years to pay back money borrowed from the city’s landfill closure fund to buy a more-than $400,000 fire engine and $180,000 in new storm sirens this year.
“Even with a citizen-supported fire safety sales tax generating almost half a million dollars a year, their budget has been cut to the point where they have the inability to properly maintain their vehicles and their safety equipment,” Hardesty said. “You have vehicles that need transmission service, they need pump tests and they need tires among other things, and that doesn’t even address the outdated breathing apparatus that are scheduled to be replaced, but didn’t enter into the budget this year.”
Council member Jim Swatsenbarg, chairman of the Budget Ways and Means Committee, which drafted the proposed budget, spoke against Hardesty’s amendment.
Hardesty is also on the Budget Ways and Means committee and cast the lone vote against the proposed budget in May.
“The fire department budget is about $1.5 million,” Swatsenbarg said. “When we asked the citizens to pass the sales tax to support the fire department, we had never, ever told anybody that their budget would be $1.9 million . . . I cannot understand anyone saying we’ve shorted the fire department and insinuating there’s any misuse of funds. I strongly oppose changing the budget.”
City Administrator Tom Short said the fire department’s budget is down slightly compared to last year because planned spending in the city’s five-year capital spending plan for the fire department was slated to be lower this year.
“If you go back to the five-year capital plan, there’s anticipated capital acquisitions over the next three years,” Short said. “In the next two years, based on the five-year plan, (the department’s budget) will be substantially higher.”
Short also cited the sale of three older vehicles approved Tuesday, and the purchase of a new brush truck with the proceeds of that sale, plus other money, as a potential cost savings in the future.
Page 2 of 2 - “We’re actually consolidating the fleet to where we’re losing three pieces of equipment and we’re replacing it with one to try to make those operations more efficient, hopefully to make operating the department also more efficient on what they have to maintain,” Short said.
Mayor Mike Harris spoke against Hardesty’s amendment, saying the city was already spending more next year than it would take in.
“Our budget this year is $8,224,000,” Harris said. “Our projected revenue is $7,532,000. So we have $692,000 in a deficit, which in my mind is unacceptable, but it’s something we have to live with and we have to look at the budget in its entirety and make whatever cuts we deem necessary, city-wide to accomplish our goal.”