York's firefighter union head, council member disagree on filling empty positions for 2013
YORK, Pa., Jan 18, 2013 (York Daily Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Five York Fire/Rescue Service firefighter positions will remain vacant in 2013, leaving the department with 59 firefighters -- a number that the union representative says is too low.
The positions came open in 2012 during retirements, and while the 2013 city budget doesn't cut any additional members, it doesn't supply the funds to fill those vacancies.
"As a taxpayer, a city resident, my first and foremost priority is public safety," said Fred DeSantis, the head of York Fire/Rescue Service's union. "I don't mind paying taxes for public safety, but I believe some funds have been mismanaged when it comes to the city budget."
DeSantis said the number of firefighters in the city has gone from 70 to 59 since Mayor Kim Bracey took office.
The loss in manpower is "felt everyday," he said. "Guys refuse to stand on the sidelines and wait for additional units. I don't think the public would tolerate that too well, either."
York City Councilman Henry Nixon said he believes the fire departments are adequately staffed right now.
"I feel that it's OK because we've managed for months now -- probably close to six months -- with the current staffing levels," Nixon said.
There were about 3,000 calls for York Fire/Rescue Services in 2012, according to Nixon, but only 220 of those were for active fires.
"That's not even one a day," he said. "When you look at real estate revenue we bring in just over $18 million and the fire department's budget is half that at about $9 million. We can't keep going like this."
In addition to the 59 active firefighters, there are about 100 retirees that the city supports, Nixon said.
"These kind of numbers are simply not sustainable," he said.
DeSantis argues that firefighters could help bring in more tax dollars for the city because saving burning buildings keeps properties from being demolished.
"Nobody pays taxes on a vacant lot," DeSantis said. "There are properties that have been vacant for years because there was a lack of manpower to save them."
DeSantis also believes there are state grants available that the city could request more funding to help pay for additional manpower.
But there is no need for additional manpower, Nixon said.
"I think staffing levels are appropriate," he said. "I don't see a need to increase or decrease it at this time."
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