The Payson Town Council Tuesday confirmed budget plans to eliminate the fire marshal’s job, but restored funding for the fire reserves.
Ironically, Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart was named firefighter of the year two days later.
At the award ceremony Thursday, Lockhart said he was honored to receive the award from the Sons of the American Revolution, but sad to leave Payson later this month if the town eliminates his position.
The town council voted to eliminate Lockhart’s position to pump up the $380,000 in general fund reserves. The council hopes to save $60,000 by using contracted services for duties typically done by Lockhart.
Lockhart currently inspects commercial properties, reviews plans, works on code adoption and
and interpretation, conducts fire investigations, business license inspections and public education; a job he says keeps him busy around the clock, despite the lack of new construction.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans after the meeting confirmed that the budget proposal will restore about $65,000 the for the firefighter reserve program. The 10 certified reserve firefighters cover vacation and sick leave shifts for full-time firefighters and provide extra manpower for special events and emergencies. In recent years, most of the full-time firefighters worked first as reserves.
Most departments would end up with a budget about the same as the current fiscal year, although most have spent significantly less than the adopted budget. The town last year added six full-time firefighters and is in the process of filling half a dozen police officer jobs that have been vacant for most of the year. The budget also includes a 3 percent raise, the first in years.
Some experts say the town’s estimated cost of using contractors to perform fire inspections is too low. Even if the town does save money, it will lose valuable expertise, say critics.
Retiring Fire Chief Marty deMasi said Lockhart represented the best of the fire service. “He has brought a level of professionalism to the fire marshal position that we had not seen before,” he said. “His knowledge is amazing. He doesn’t need a code book because he has it all in here. His years of experience and commitment is outstanding.”
The council on Tuesday reaffirmed its intention to eliminate the fire marshal position, although it has not officially approved the budget. Residents can still offer input in writing or attend the the June 20 meeting.
On Tuesday, councilors Rick Croy and Fred Carpenter favored keeping the fire marshal.
Carpenter pointed out the area has a Memorandum of Understanding for inspection of state, county and public school buildings because of Lockhart’s qualifications. In the state, only 51 other jurisdictions have a MOU. Any area without one relies on the State Fire Marshal’s Office to conduct such inspections.
Mayor Evans has pushed to eliminate Lockhart’s position, citing the town’s budget woes. The annual budget for next year will drop about 21 percent from this year, which includes changes for things like grants never received and construction projects. The budget estimates suggest that revenues will drop by 5 percent.
“The major economic factors impacting the budget for fiscal year 2012/2013 are the slow recovery of the housing industry and financial markets,” wrote Town Manager Debra Galbraith in a budget overview. “The town continues to see closures of some businesses, loss of employment for some residents, and decreased local spending ... The rising cost of health insurance and an increase in the contribution rate for the public safety retirement fund have added to our tenuous situation.”
Still, Carpenter said he was voting no because “I think eliminating the fire marshal is the wrong move.”