During the Sept. 17 Spanish Fort City Council work session, council members discussed the passage of the upcoming fiscal year budget, but had questions about the allotted increase for the city’s volunteer fire/rescue department.
Several council members raised questions about the proposed budget increase for the department.
“I have a problem with that budget number going up 25 percent at one time,” Councilman J.R. Smith said. “Looking at the balance sheet from the fire department, it looks like they purchased two new vehicles last year and were $100,000 in the hole on that. With the discussions we’ve been having about them becoming a part of the city, I have a problem with that increase.”
Mayor Mike McMillan said the increase would allow three additional full-time firefighters that would cost the city an additional $125,000 with insurance and cost of living adjustments included.
“The thought process with this is to take it to a 24 hour, seven day a week man power station,” McMillan said.
Spanish Fort Fire/Rescue Department Chief Roger Few told the council that optimum staffing for a fire truck is three or four people, but that the city could get by with two if the staffing additions were approved.
“With two, they could at least get the first truck in route and start the action while everyone else is assembling” Few said.
Spanish Fort city leaders had commissioned a study from the University of South Alabama to determine the best option for the fire department’s future, including the city absorbing the volunteer department into a full city department. SFFR leaders have not yet seen the results of that study.
“I do think we need to have more people on staff, but if we’re working at building a new station and budgeting 25 percent more than last year, I think it’s time to stop feeding the horse over the fence and all come on the same side of the fence together,” Smith said.
Councilman Curt Smith said he felt the budget increase was just a side effect of the city’s continued growth.
“The reality is this is going to get bigger and bigger even we’re just donating to a volunteer fire department,” Curt Smith said. “We have to expect this to grow as the city is growing. This is not a one-time this year. This is a reality that every year will increase, and this is probably going to be the baseline.”
McMillan said the city has been talking to the legislature questioning some of the service area allotted to the department in Loxley and other parts of the county.
“I think it’s wrong for the city to foot the bill in those areas, but at our table, we have got to be responsible for our citizens within the city,” McMillan said.