Payson Confirms Fire Marshal Cut

Payson Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart (right) this week was honored as fireman of the year by the Sons of the American Revolution.

Payson Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart (right) this week was honored as fireman of the year by the Sons of the American Revolution.

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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.”

Comments

Robbin Flowers 1 year, 6 months ago

"The council hopes to save $60,000 by using contracted services for duties typically done by Lockhart." Wrong! This will end up costing us big, in the future, there is hidden costs here.

We will lose "valuable expertise" and this is another "technique" to dumb us all down. “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.” People with knowledge are difficult to exploit.

“The major economic factors impacting the budget for fiscal year 2012/2013 are the slow recovery of the housing industry and financial markets.” “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.” A direct cause and effect of W-Mart corp.

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Barbara Rasmussen 1 year, 6 months ago

People need to let our Town Council and Mayor know that it is not right to put a price on the safety of the public, visitors and property of Town of Payson residents. They are wrong in doing this. The only reason they kept the Reserve Program was that they had to. They did not do this out of the goodness of their hearts or because they were feeling generous. Everyone needs to let our Town Council Members and Mayor that they were elected to serve the people of Payson. What price can be put on someones life? So they save $60,000 minus the $30,000+ they will be paying consultants to do the job. Do the math and then people should decide for themselves was this a budget cutting decision or perhaps something else? What was the true motive for getting rid of Mr. Lockhart?

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Jack Babb 1 year, 6 months ago

Not to be a fear-monger but, I do hope and pray the Town Council understands the potential consequences of eliminating the Fire Marshal position. The potential for injury and death will increase without a "town conscious" to assure safety throughout the year.

The building department and town engineer only sees potential hazards during plan reviews and the respective inspections. The Fire Marshal would see potential hazards throughout the year, while shopping, etc. The other adopted codes do include some issues found in the fire code, but not all.

In our litigious society my concerns are for all citizens that visit all communities in Arizona, including Payson.

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Pat Randall 1 year, 6 months ago

Maybe the raises shouldn't have been given to the town manager and some of the other people that received them, along with hiring more office people. Then there would be money for the Fire Marshall. At least the Fire Marshall knows his job. Has had the training and experience for a long time to do his job right. Contracted so called fire marshalls could care less how they do the job. Do they have the education to do the job right if they wanted to? Will they be available when needed or will the inspections be passed over?

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Ted Paulk 1 year, 6 months ago

The fire mashall has refused to inspect the Payson American Legion Post for years. The Post has to pay $400 for an annual fire inspection, that is REQUIRED by the Payson fire department, to a company out of PHOENIX.. I suspect the American Legion is not the only commercial business in Payson paying such costs. Not quiet sure why the fire marshall is working so hard...doing what? With the multitude of firemen in town perhaps the Payson FD could get some of these guys trained to do such mundane inspections as the Legion, and charge for this service...at least it would keep the money in town. As for the fire marshall : $92,000 per year for pay? Really? I am still stunned that we pay 54 town employees over $72,000 per year!! That needs to be reviewed.

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