Firefighters look for overtime money

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Fire department officials have long argued the community is better served by having four firefighters at each station, a request city supervisors have never agreed to fully fund.

Supervisors Robin Williamson and Pete Livermore will ask the Board of Supervisors on Thursday to consider funding the overtime pay with one-shot money from the city's rainy-day fund, which has more than $4 million set aside.

City officials are worried with the impending move of Wal-Mart and its estimated $1 million in sales taxes to Douglas County, future budget years will be shy on the sales tax dollars that make up around 42 percent of the city's $43.4 million budget. Supervisors funded several new positions for the coming fiscal year-- the bulk in the public safety arena -- but declined during the March budget sessions to hire three firefighters at $180,000 a year. They also set money aside to help soften the expected economic blow from losing Wal-Mart.

However, a plan to cut a $400,000 ambulance subsidy shifted three firefighter/paramedics from Station 3 to create a multipurpose engine unit to deal with both fire and ambulance emergencies. That left the South Carson station with three firefighters per shift -- a situation Fire Chief Lou Buckley said at the time was a "poor substitute" to just staffing a third ambulance.

Buckley said hiring new firefighter/paramedics is still the best option, and he worries about the potential physical strain and fatigue put on his staff from working extra shifts.

"Anytime you have (fatigue) as a factor, it usually shows up in other things -- sick leave, illnesses, lower morale. Those kind of issues could become a problem.

City Manger John Berkich argued in a memo to the Board of Supervisors that the fire department already uses $578,000 in overtime a year, which equals roughly seven full-time employees. It also means 14 extra days of work per firefighter each year, Buckley said. Staffing Station 3 with an overtime-funded firefighter would require an extra seven shifts from each of the department's 50 firefighters, Buckley said. Berkich argued it "would place undo stress on existing staff." Also, Berkich pointed out firefighters used more than 100 percent of their available six time in the past three years, and the added fatigue could increase those sick days.

However, firefighters want to work the overtime, Buckley said, for at least one year while the city evaluates its fiscal position and ability to permanently add more staff.

"They put the citizens before themselves," he said. "They believe that fourth person at Station 3 is an important asset to the community they serve."

Williamson said Bob Schreihans, president of the Carson City Firefighters Association, asked her to raise the issue. Williamson said the overtime request is "a Band-Aid approach" to filling the firefighter's requests while city officials monitor the fiscal situation of the coming year.

Livermore said he was invited to discussions on the issue after city budget hearings. He thinks the firefighters "need one more chance to convince the Board."

Both Williamson and Livermore said their support for the issue has nothing to do with their plans to run for re-election this year.

"I hope that's it not perceived like that," Livermore said. "Two of us cannot make a difference. It takes three of us to fund that amount of money."

The city must send its final budget to the state by the end of the month and will hold their final budget hearing May 20, and money such as the overtime request must be set aside in the budget.

If you go:

What: Carson City Board of Supervisors meeting

When: 8:30 a.m., Thursday

Where: the Community Center's Sierra Room, 851 E. William St.


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