Monday, August 16, 2010

CITY MANAGER: "Misleading, inaccurate" on budget, firefighter leader says

COLUMBIA, 8/15/10  (Beat Byte) --   "Eliminating fire fighters and permanently shutting down a fire truck is not in the public's best interest.  Frankly, I think you're rolling the dice on public safety, while at the same time giving the community a false sense of security." 
Those charged words are from an August 1 email to Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins, (left, Missourian photo) about the spin he put on his decision to cut firefighter positions at Fire Station 2 on Worley Street from the 2011 annual city budget. 
Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Local 1055 union president Brad Fraizer wrote the email, cc'ing it to Mayor Bob McDavid, City Council members, and two senior fire department chiefs.  In it, he took Mr. Watkins to task for "inaccurate, misleading" statements in the Columbia Missourian.  
"The decision to cut the eight vacant firefighter positions was essentially made last year, Watkins said," in a July 28 Missourian story.   
Not true, Fraizer explained, saying the decision to cut four funded and four un-funded positions -- eight total -- was made just last month.   
"As of June 30th [2010], the Fire Department had interviews scheduled to fill four vacancies that were funded in the current budget," he wrote.   "The decision to eliminate those four positions -- and four un-funded positions -- was announced July 1 [2010] by Chief Markgraf, citing a meeting he had with you that morning."     

In another Watkins statement, "Columbia still has the same number of firefighters it has had for the past few years, he said, so he does not expect response times to get longer," the Missourian reported. 
Fraizer took issue again.  "Your proposed budget eliminates four positions from the Fire Department," he wrote.  "Consequently, we do not have the same number of fire fighters in the department." 

On July 29, the Missourian reported:   "Watkins said there are the same number of fire companies operating in Columbia today as there were a year ago, because Station No. 9 on Blue Ridge Road now has a company, offsetting the loss from Station No. 2.   He said because the city is operating nine stations instead of eight, the fire department has a better response time."
That comment prompted Fraizer's harshest critique.  
"I'm concerned information being provided to the public is misleading, inaccurate, and should be corrected," he wrote.  "Specifically, our staffing levels have been reduced and there is no data to support that 'the fire department has a better response time' and '[you] do 'not expect response times to get longer.'  Station Nine hasn't been open long have statistical data with any value."
Lack of data, Fraizer claims, is a major flaw in Watkins' approach.   "Minus statistics, it stands to reason spreading out current resources will have a negative impact on response times for certain parts of the City," Fraizer wrote.  "The community now served by Station Nine will obviously see an improved response, but only at the expense of the community served by Station Two."  

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