After months of dogged effort, Payson’s budget study committee has come up with some surprising — and unsettling — proposals.
Perhaps the most controversial proposal is the elimination of the position of fire marshal, on the assumption the town could use contract fire inspectors and save a good portion of the current fire marshal’s $92,000 in salary and benefits.
In addition, the budget committee recommended cutting the roughly $100,000 that Fire Chief Marty deMasi recommended spending to maintain a core of about a dozen part-time firefighters who represent a valuable pool of extra manpower in an emergency.
We will take a close look at each of these proposals in future issues. Certainly, we appreciate the months the study committee spent struggling to choose between bad and worse choices as a result of the continued lag in the Rim Country’s recovery from this awful downturn since the economic collapse nearly five years ago.
For starters, it sounds like the town has offered some flimsy rationales to cover real motives. For instance, the budget presentation blamed federal health care reforms for the recommendation to eliminate the stand-by, part-time firefighter positions. The new federal rules would require the town to provide health benefits to the on-call firefighters if they work more than 30 hours in any given week. But we can’t believe the town couldn’t keep the work hours below 30. We suspect some other motive is at work here. We fear the supposed $100,000 in savings will end up paying for more full-time firefighters and overtime.
By the same token, the assertion that the fire marshal’s job is the only high-paid job the town can do without also seems questionable. We suspect that frustration with the long delays the fire marshal’s requirements and inspections have imposed on some businesses seeking approval to operate have played a role in the decision-making.
Now, that’s certainly a discussion worth having. We still hear far too many horror stories from businesses seeking town permits and permissions. But that’s not just a problem in the fire marshal’s office. We’ve heard lots of anecdotes that Payson still has a ways to go before it can confidently say it helps more than it hinders when businesses are struggling to survive.
But we feel a bit twitchy when officials use budget cuts as cover for actions undertaken for other reasons entirely. Certainly, we’d feel less leery of the claimed need to cut a high-paid position if the town wasn’t so busy hiring more police officers and firefighters — despite a declining crime rate and a still-modest number of fire calls. The budget actually includes some startling department-by-department increases — if you compare year-end actual spending to the proposed department budget for 2013-14.
So we think Payson has some work to do in explaining the need for the budget cuts — and the increases — outlined in the recent presentations.