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Budget staff say fire staffing will remain flat

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: August 27, 2013 - 4:34 PM

Updated at 4:00 p.m.

Despite Mayor R.T. Rybak's plan to pay for 30 new firefighters next year, new budget documents project that the total number of firefighters will actually remain flat.

The mayor's recommended budget, subject to City Council approval, shows that the total size of the department would decrease by three employees. Budget staffers said this afternoon that they had made a mistake, however, and that the budgeted department size would remain the same.

Both situations square with predictions from the firefighters union, who said after the mayor's budget speech that the hiring would barely outpace retirements.

The number of full-time equivalent employees budgeted for 2013 and 2014 is 413. Since the number of civilian employees will remain the same (seven), that leaves about 406 sworn personnel.

The initial apparent decrease was spotted by Nick Halter at the Southwest/Downtown Journal, whose inquiry into the matter took the mayor's office by suprise. Both the total size of the department and the number of "emergency reponse" employees were projected to decrease in budget documents.

John Stiles, the mayor's spokesman, said this morning that the mayor's office expected there would be a "smallish bump" in the total number of firefighters. "Why [the Finance Department] landed with the numbers that they did I can't account for," Stiles said.

MPLS noted that it is the mayor's budget -- it says "2014 Mayor's Recommended Budget" at the bottom of every page -- rather than the Finance Department's. So why the conflicting statements?

"It's a 1,000-page budget and we don't proof every line when they put it out there," Stiles said. "We were a little bit suprised to find it when Nick found it there." 

Stiles later sent MPLS the new figures from finance officials, along with this statement (below) regarding the change. They expect to have more than 413 FTEs at times, since hires and retirements are not simultaneous, but the budgeted staffing level is 413.

"Simply put, this is just an error, and what the Mayor said in his budget speech continues to be the case: we are likely to have more than 413 staff at any given point during the year as cadets join the department while retirements happen — with the caveat, of course, that the pace and number of retirements are notoriously difficult to predict, and we can’t yet know for certain how many cadets will graduate. We’ll be monitoring both throughout the year to make sure that staffing remains at desired levels."

The total budget for the department would increase by $4.1 million, or 7.6 percent, under the mayor's proposal. That will help pay for a two percent pay raise, as well as increases in health insurance, workers compensation and pension obligations.

The mayor also set aside $250,000 for a pilot program that sends SUVs with EMS specialists to medical emergencies, rather than fire trucks.

Expect to see more on this as the city's budget committee begins to hear budget presentations from individual departments.

Photo: Firefighters extinguishing a blaze on Bryant Avenue earlier this year.

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