Fire Department requests 3 firefighters

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Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble asked the City Council to hire three additional firefighters next year, during a discussion Tuesday about his department's 2005 budget.

The three additional firefighters would bump up the city's firefighter and emegency medical crew to 12 and satisfy a 2001 agreement with the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District.

The three additional firefighters would cost $147,000 and put the fire department at more than the 3.5 percent budget increase each department is allowed for 2005.

This summer, the council is looking at different departmental budgets before its daylong budget hearing in October. On Tuesday night, Struble and Public Safety Director J.D. Hays presented the fire and police budgets.

A contentious issue in the past two years, the city had agreed to fund 12 full-time firefighters by 2002, but tight budgets allowed it to hire only six. The city had linked increasing firefighting staff with two fire-tax initiatives, both of which failed. After members of the rural fire protection district raised concerns, the council decided to add three firefighters to the budget in December 2003.

But even that increase left the department short by three.

After Struble's Tuesday night presentation, council members made few comments on the proposed increase in firefighters.

"Thank you for adding the additional fire and EMS people," Councilman Ken Brenner said.

City Finance Director Don Taylor said the city's expected revenue should be more than the 3.5 percent increase each city department was asked to meet in their budget.

The increase in firefighters will soak up most of that excess, Taylor said.

Hays spent much of his presentation talking about the police department's problems with retaining officers. The police department has 37 full-time employees and 24 sworn officers. It is short two police officers.

"We have yet to have a full staff for any longer than two weeks, and that was two years ago," Hays said.

Some of the problem is that police officers are paid more in other cities and can buy a house for less there than they can in Steamboat Springs, Hays said. But he said that wasn't the only problem.

Hays also said the department is selective in who it hires and that it spends money doing extensive background checks on its candidates.

"It could be a full staff, but we just don't want to hire some of the folks who come down the pike and want to be a police officer in Steamboat Springs," Hays said.

The police department has a 25 percent turnover rate, which Taylor said was about average for the city's departments.

Hays said he is working on a proposal that would help resolve the problem of retaining officers.

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