Fire District Plans to Decide Next Month on Hiring New Firefighters, Retiring Bonds
One trustee made a last-ditch effort to stop the latest staffing analysis, even though the board president says it's nearly completed.
Orland Fire Protection District trustees are pressing ahead with the first district-wide staffing analysis in five years, against the last minute entreaty of one of its own members.
Following a board of trustees meeting on Tuesday, board president James Hickey said that the latest study is only weeks from completion and that he expects board members to vote at their July 26 meeting on whether to move ahead with the hiring of 11 new firefighters.
Earlier this month, the board hired Illinois Fire Chiefs Association (IFCA), led by former Orland Fire Chief Robert Buhs, to investigate whether these hires would save more money than they cost in the long-run.
During Tuesday’s meeting, trustee Martin McGill reminded his fellow board members that the district conducted an extensive staffing analysis in 2006. The report, McGill said, recommended that the district should have employed as many as 150 firefighters by the present year.
According to several members of the board and fire district staff, the report cost $56,000 and took several months to complete.
“Economically, things have changed a lot since 2006, across all sectors,” Hickey said. “So I’m certain they were looking at increased growth and they were looking at more tax dollars coming in, whereas we’re definitely not seeing that any longer.”
Currently the district has 101 shift and four day-time firefighters on staff, according to Walter Rafacz, vice president of Orland Firefighters Local 2754.
The board of trustees voted 3-2 to continue the study with IFCA, whose expenses are projected to total $5,100. Since the April election, trustees McGill and Glenn Michalek have been in the minority on most board issues, including this one.
Nonetheless, Hickey asked fire district staff to get each board member a copy of the 2006 staffing report.
The board may consider retiring two existing bonds that had been reissued over the last several years to help pay for capital improvement projects, including the training facility and communication upgrades.
By doing so, the district would save $110,000 in interest payments, according to finance director Kerry Sullivan.
Hickey noted that the practice of reissuing bonds was unfair to taxpayers and would likely stop. In a statement issued Wednesday, he said, “Extending a bond to cover other projects is a backdoor tax increase. When the bond is retired, it will reduce the need to increase taxes as was done in the past.”
Sullivan is expected to report back to the board next month with a recommendation on the bonds.