More firefighters for city?

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The second reading of the 2004 budget passed Tuesday night, but not before one council member asked if $210,000 should be added for six additional firefighters and EMS personnel.

Newly elected Councilman Ken Brenner said he was not comfortable approving the budget without the firefighters and EMS personnel the city had agreed to fund.

Brenner, who worked on the agreement with the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District, said the city had said it would have 12 full-time employees by this year. The city currently has six.

"Fire and ambulance is an essential service," Brenner said. "We gave our word that we would raise the funds. Our word is important."

Brenner suggested tabling the budget and asked city staff to look at an already constrained budget to fund the $210,000 for firefighters and EMS personnel.

Some council members were not comfortable with Brenner's suggestion to go back and revise the budget. The 2004 budget largely was reviewed at an all-day budget hearing Oct. 7, and the first reading of the budget was Nov. 4, before the new council members came on board.

Councilman Loui Antonucci said he was not willing to do that kind of "brain damage" over again.

"A couple months worth (of work) is already in there," Antonucci said. "And we spent a whole day chopping and cutting."

Councilwoman Nancy Kramer proposed approving the budget, knowing the council could use its authority under the city's charter to make changes after its approval.

The council agreed to discuss the funding of six more firefighters at a Dec. 9 council meeting, when it meets with the rural fire district. The council also could talk about the funding at its annual retreat in December.

Before deciding to fully fund fire and ambulance personnel, council members said they should talk about overall taxing policy, the potential to consolidate with the rural fire protection district and where the $210,000 would come from if six personnel were added.

Councilwoman Kathy Connell said the rural fire district is aware of the city's struggle to fund the firefighters and was supportive of the city's proposed tax in the Nov. 4 election, which would have provided the funds for six additional personnel if it had passed.

City Finance Director Don Taylor said that if the city did fund the additional firefighters and EMS personnel and did not cut services anywhere else, it would mean taking a total of $350,000 out of reserves for 2004.

That could be a risky situation, Taylor said, as the city continues to use up reserves in a time when revenue is below expenditures.

Council President Paul Strong agreed that funding for additional firefighters should come out of the operations budget and could mean cutting back on other services.

"If we want to cut things out of the budget, it is up to council to make those decisions: all seven of us okaying (that) those are the things we are going to give up for six firefighters," Strong said.

Councilwoman Susan Dellinger asked city staff to come back with a "menu" of what could be cut.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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