Published: Mar 24, 2012 09:38 PM
Modified: Mar 25, 2012 03:10 AM
MORRISVILLE - The town will have about $11.1 million available in its savings account, known as an unassigned fund balance.
Over the next few weeks, the Morrisville Town Council will need to decide whether to tap into that fund to pay for $2.7 million in long-awaited projects and service improvements, a list that tops out at 71 items.
Some of those items, like three additional firefighters, also come with recurring costs that couldn’t be covered through the fund balance alone. The council’s other options include continuing to delay improvements or increasing taxes and fees.
The Council is set to meet 6 p.m. April 2 to make decisions on which items should be funded and how to pay for them. The town’s policy requires a minimum of 25 percent of total expenses to remain in the unassigned fund balance. The balance is projected to be at 51 percent by June 30.
There was some early consensus at budget workshop Thursday on two issues: to delay $550,000 in stormwater program upgrades and to provide merit pay increases for staff. About $330,000 has been proposed for the upcoming year.
One point of contention was whether to fund the additional firefighters, a cost of about $183,000 a year. Some council members argue the town is providing adequate service, while fire officials and other council members said firefighters and property is at-risk.
For a decade, the fire department has been asking for more personnel.
Morrisville firefighters are unable to fight a residential structure fire without calling for mutual aid for the first wave, said Community Services Director Tony Chiotakis.
Industry standards and town policy require that if two firefighters go into a burning structure there must be at least two fire fighters on scene to back them up.
At current staffing levels there aren’t enough Morrisville firefighters to do this. Often in an attempt to save property, firefighters will ignore this policy and go in instead of waiting the extra time for an out-of-town department to show up, officials said.
Councilman Michael Schlink said with only two structure fires a month, he couldn’t see justifying spending the money or raising taxes to fund new firefighters.
In the past few weeks Schlink said he has heard from residents opposed to any tax increase.
“I hear people saying, ‘That’s why I have insurance in case my house burns down,’” Schlink said.
Schlink said he would feel more comfortable voting for some of these projects if there was public support. He proposed a professional town-wide survey. But, the data from such a survey would unlikely be available by the June 30 budget deadline, Chiotakis said.
Councilman Steve Diehl supports adding more fire personnel.
“I’m hearing more and more from citizens ‘give us better roads and fire,’” Diehl said. “I think the town can do much better. We just have to put our minds to doing what is best for our citizens rather than (being) the cheapest town.”
Councilwoman Margaret Broadwell also supported adding more firefighters.
“It’s the government’s job to provide what the citizens can not provide for themselves,” Broadwell said. “I’m shocked to hear we do not have adequate personnel to cover first wave... I think it’s time for us to step up to that.”