5 firefighter positions, responder raises part of budget deliberations
Written by Patty Sullivan
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 16:58
MAT-SU—After one night of deliberating the proposed budget, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assemblymembers adopted 11 amendments ranging from addressing the high turnover for emergency responders to lowering the tax rates for some of the Borough’s 16 road service areas and eight fire service areas. More work continues tonight.
The budget is still a work in progress. Assemblymembers can reconsider votes and the Mayor can veto. As of last night, (May 7) however, 11 amendments were adopted. Here are some of the 11 adopted amendments to the proposed budget:
• four fire engineers, 1 deputy chief for state’s second largest fire dept.
The first amendment out of the chute by Assemblymember Vern Halter added four fire engineers and a deputy fire chief to the Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area. Last week Assemblymembers heard sharp testimony from frustrated responders. Responder pay begins at $8/hour for trainees on up to $26.29/hour for an EMS chief. Most of the responders in the Borough have a day job and serve as on-call responders in their spare time, often pulled from the dinner table or from bed to respond to an emergency; few, if any are working at the stations. Halter’s request to add four engineers will provide an engineer at a station ready to go out the door when the call is dispatched, thus saving valuable minutes. Today the engineer must drive first to the station then to the fire. Emergency Services Director Dennis Brodigan told the Assembly the workload is tremendous and the pay scale not competitive with other municipalities. In 2010 the turnover was 20 percent. In 2011 the turnover was 30 percent. This year the Borough is on-track to lose 88 responders, Brodigan said. When the on call responder quits, the Borough also loses the investment in training which can tally tens of thousands of dollars as well as the investment in custom fitted EMS, fire, and dive gear and personal protective equipment. Borough Human Resources Manager Sonya Conant estimated the cost for 91 responder separations to be $318,500.
• $3/hour pay raise for all Borough on-call responders without raising mill rates
Assemblymember Ron Arvin asked the Borough Assembly to support a $3 per hour pay raise for all Borough on-call responders. Arvin was able to allocate the nearly $1 million in funds without raising mill rates. He redirected funds from service area budgets, the areawide fund, and some from state revenue sharing. Arvin said the raise would help reduce the turnover of personnel and would likely help reduce training costs.
Hear Assemblymember Ron Arvin by clicking here.
“So I think this is a healthy step. It will allow those individuals that are on-call responders to have some feeling of appreciation…And money doesn’t always make people feel appreciated but when you reduce the disparity between what one individual is being paid versus what another individual is being paid that does … appreciation. That there is some uniformity,” Arvin said.
$500,000 re-scoped from emergency telephone notification system project to spatial data acquisition
Assemblymember Steve Colligan added an amendment to rescope a capital project for $500,000. Instead of funding a program for E-911 mass notification for emergencies, the Borough will fund a project that would align new mapping information called LiDAR with the Borough parcel maps. This spatial data acquisition will ensure that responders are directed to the correct property. Last year the Assembly agreed to pursue high accuracy mapping across 3,680 square miles of the Borough. With LiDAR, more than 90 percent of the funding comes from a multi-agency partnership of federal, state, and non-profit sources.
Click here to listen to Colligan gives his professional insight on the inaccuracy of Alaska maps, the benefit to the Borough from LiDAR , and the next step aligning parcel maps to fit the LiDAR data.
“Our state does not have any base maps that meet national map standards," Colligan said. "Most of our data statewide, our control network, is 1950s analog hand-drawn stuff that took them 20 years to convert to maps and then they convert that to digital. So in my business there are mountains that are understated by 3,000 feet and can be up to a mile and a half off when they are shown in a USGS map. They’ve tried to correct some of those things…This project will bring the Mat-Su Borough, in a very narrow core area along the Susitna drainage, into something that more meets national map standards, which is freely and widely available in the continental US. … We are moving toward, in an incremental step, to moving our data, which is the basis of every decision we make, to get it on par with them…”
Other amendments include:
• adding hours to a permanent library assistant for Sutton to be 75 percent of full time. The present job is part-time. Assemblymember Warren Keogh sponsored the amendment.
• giving cities block grants of $35,000 to Houston, $65,000 to Palmer, and $75,000 to Wasilla.
• increasing the funding to Youth Court to a total $75,000. Assemblymember Steve Colligan sponsored the amendment.
The Assembly continues deliberating tonight May 8 at 6 pm in the Assembly Chambers, downstairs, at 350 E. Dahlia Ave. in Palmer.