Friday, Feb. 15, 2013
Public safety under fire in Belton
By Bethany Bashioum
Belton firefighters are rallying against proposed cuts to the city’s 2014 budget that may result in eliminating more than a dozen public safety positions throughout the city.
A group of about 40 firefighters, family members and friends, marched on foot from Belton Fire Station No. 1 to the city’s council chambers along Main Street on Feb. 11 sporting red shirts that read “Support Your Firefighters,” for the first of several scheduled city budget work sessions.
The budget proposal, which was released Feb. 5, asks the police department to cut nearly $270,000 and for the fire department to cut roughly $311,000 from their operating costs.
As many as 16 positions, eight from each department, are under consideration for elimination.
Under the proposed budget, which is looking to cut approximately $1 million in all from the general fund, City Manager Ronald Trivitt said that the fire department is also being considered to slim down their employee overtime pay from 1.98 percent to the federal minimum of 1.5 percent. Police and fire services make up two-thirds of the general fund budget, Trivitt said.
Belton Fire Captain Steve Kratofil, who also serves as a spokesman for Local No. 42 chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said if approved, the budget cuts would likely eliminate six positions, as well as two vacant positions, enough to take an entire engine out of service.
“Losing public safety is huge,” he said. “We want to get the point across that we don’t stand for cuts in public safety, and to us it’s dangerous and irresponsible on the city’s part to look at us for their cuts.”
The city’s police force could also experience as many as six or eight job layoffs.
“We just want the word to get out to our council,” Kratofil said. “It’s just a proposal, and we hope it stays that way. We want the citizens of Belton to know that these cuts could possibly come, and if they do, it’s shutting down a fire truck in a city that doesn’t have very many.”
Kratofil said the department averages about 11 calls in a 24-hour shift.
“Last year we ran over 4,000 calls, which in the immediate metropolitan area, we’re the busiest department with probably the lowest staff.”
Trivitt said that the city’s budget isn’t necessarily in the red yet, but due to a city ordinance, must maintain a 15 percent reserve fund.
He said about 70 percent of the city’s budget covers pay and benefits for city employees.
Due to an unexpected drop in the sales tax revenues and its building and development program in the last year, Trivitt said the shortfall will have to be made up in next year’s budget.
He said that proposed budget also looks at eliminating capitol improvement projects and new vehicle purchases for the fiscal year.
“Basically, at this point it’s a recommendation and the council will be developing the budget over the next six or seven weeks,” Trivitt said. “It’s difficult to make any cuts as substantial as we’re looking at without involving the police and fire.”
During Monday’s meeting, the city council said it will look through the entire budget in detail before making any final decisions.
Trivitt, who has been in his position for almost 25 years, said he’s never seen a city budget proposal worse than this one.
“We have some difficult decisions ahead of us but we’re just at the beginning of the process. No final decisions have been made,” he said.
The council has until the end of March to approve the budget.
The next budget work session meeting will be 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, and a special Saturday meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 23.