The Payson Town Council’s decision to staff the third fire station this year despite a still-bleak budget picture raises more questions than it answers.
At this writing, the council appears inclined to cancel its mutual aid agreement with neighboring Hellsgate Fire Department and use the money to hire two full-time firefighters. The town will likely then kick in another $60,000 for a third full-timer — and then increase the reserve force. All that will provide the six firefighters necessary to put a two-man crew on a fire truck around the clock.
That means Payson will open the third fire station, mostly to cut a minute or two off the response times in the east end of town, an area that includes two private country clubs. The council members said they must keep faith with the voters — who approved a bond issue five years ago on the promise of three fire stations.
We certainly understand the lure of that third fire station. Moreover, several council members made welcome statements about the need to ensure that the fire department operates efficiently. That means explore the increased use of reserve firefighters, cross training to maximize flexibility and making effective use of battalion chiefs in an emergency.
The council now appears ready to open that station even if Payson doesn’t get a $353,000 federal SAFER grant. It seems unlikely the town will get that grant, which would have made it possible to put a three-man crew on the truck without unhinging the budget.
The most recent council discussion made it sound like the town will go ahead and staff the third station on its own, even if it means mostly giving up on street maintenance, not repaying the water department loan and living with a razor-thin financial reserve.
In truth, we suspect Payson should reconsider its current reliance on expensive, full-time firefighters to not only fight house fires but to answer every medical call in town. Such medical issues account for the vast majority of the department’s calls, with paramedics piled onto fire trucks as private ambulances trail along behind as backup. As a result, taxpayers foot the bill instead of medical insurance policies even for calls that don’t require such a huge expenditure of resources.
So we hope that even if the town moves forward with the third fire station, council members will think hard about the current model.
Treat teachers fairly
Does this seem wrong to you: Lay off seven veteran teachers in April. Then start hiring new teachers in May.
That’s exactly what the Payson Unified School Board seems ready to do.
Now, we know that the situation’s more complicated than that brief description — but we hope the board will pay attention to how things look.
Let us review. In April, the board trimmed about 25 positions, largely through attrition and resignations — but finally by laying off seven teachers. Some of those teachers had many years seniority in careers dedicated to educating our children.
The administration said an $800,000 budget deficit forced it to resort to layoffs. Moreover, the administration noted that state law banned any consideration of seniority in the layoff decision — forcing each principal to come up with an elaborate rating system to figure out who goes and who stays.
All right. Painful. Agonizing. Unfair, even — but necessary. Except, almost as soon as the board approved those layoffs, the district started hiring people.
This week, the district added a math teacher and a science teacher. All right. That makes sense: Math and science teachers remain in short supply. The district couldn’t simply turn one of the laid off elementary school teachers into a high school science teacher.
But then the district made a veteran elementary school teacher into the new principal for Payson Elementary School. That will ultimately require the district to hire a new elementary school teacher to fill her slot.
Here’s where they lose us. The district just laid off four elementary school teachers. So why not cancel one of those layoffs and offer the top teacher on the layoff list the now open spot?
The administration says the laid off teachers can apply for the job — but they won’t get preferential consideration.
That strikes us as unfair.
The district has asked a lot of its teachers, who have taken on larger classes, gone years without a raise, lost treasured fringe benefits. Now, the district has asked them to switch schools, adjust to wholesale changes and soldier on through hard times.
So it seems like the least the district could do in return is honor the service of those teachers by doing everything in its power to save their jobs. Appearances do matter — and so does how you treat people.