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Wayne's Words: Fire Department changes

Wayne Horne | 2/7/2018, 12:38 p.m.
This week’s Joliet City Council meeting sparked what could be identified as a ‘balance of resource and need’ debate. In ...

This week’s Joliet City Council meeting sparked what could be identified as a ‘balance of resource and need’ debate. In the name of efficiency, the city is considering the use of one piece of fire-fighting apparatus that would replace two pieces of equipment. The apparatus is called a ‘quint’. The equipment type has been around for over 100 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA defines the standard required for this type of apparatus to properly function as a quint.

However, the debate is not really about the effectiveness or efficiency of the equipment, but about the number of personnel needed to man the piece of equipment. The current firefighters contract requires a minimum of three personnel for each fire truck. By replacing two pieces of apparatus with one, three fewer personnel will be required to operate the equipment. Reduction of fire department personnel overtime is the objective.

A review of the latest Overtime Budget Status Report shows the Fire Department spent $2.45 million through December 21, 2017. The original budget passed for 2017 allowed for a total of $902,000 of overtime. That’s 272% over the 2017 budget passed in December 2016. The latest overtime status report actually shows a different year-end result because the City Manager adjusted the Fire Department’s overtime budget by approximately $1.4 million between the December 19, 2017 City Council meeting and this week’s Council meeting. By the way, they still exceeded the revised overtime budget by almost 7%. The City’s Budget is, after all, “just a guideline.”

The City Council does not need to review or consent to such a change under the City-Manager form of government Joliet operates under.

Another Council item on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting comes under the heading of “There’s always one more expense necessary for the baseball stadium.” The Joliet Slammers organization presented the City Council with a ‘Year in Review’ report. Part of that report contained the economic impact the Slammers organization had on the community. The City of Joliet benefited economically by approximately $106,000, according to the report. That amount includes rent, licenses, police security, paramedics, utilities, and food and beverage tax.

The Slammers report does not reflect what it costs to keep the baseball stadium operational. Revenue from the Slammers organization doesn’t keep pace with the never-ending expense of stadium operations.

On Tuesday’s Council meeting agenda were two contracts for Joliet baseball stadium upgrades, paid for by the City, that totaled $273,750. Add the cost of the artificial turf and other maintenance costs over the years versus the revenues received and it’s not hard to understand why the term “money pit” applies to Joliet’s baseball stadium. Not counting the original cost to build the place (Approx. $28 million) the ratio of expense to the city versus revenue to Joliet is about 2.5x the generated revenues. Quite a deal.

One last thing…as related in a previous column, I had knee replacement surgery about 10 weeks ago. To date, I’m doing fine and recovery is on track. I opted to use the Veterans choice program, which uses private sector providers that are paid through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program gives veterans flexibility for receiving timely care without having to travel long distances. It’s a good concept. But there are pitfalls.