WICHITA, Kansas– The details of Sedgwick County’s $421 million budget are out and at least one county commissioner is worried for public safety because six vacant firefighters positions will remain unfilled in 2015.
At Fire Station 37 in Bel Aire firefighters are training with new equipment and going on with daily operations as a fight over funding to fill vacant positions heats up at the county commissioner’s meeting.
“Because of financial condition of the fire district we have six positions vacant, they continue to be vacant and plan to be vacant for awhile,” county manager William Buchanan said at the meeting.
The six open positions don’t sit well with commissioner Jim Skelton.
“I just want to express my concern about that for safety reasons for firefighters,” Skelton said.
“I would prefer all firefighter positions filled and maybe as an alternative look at some management positions to eliminate,” he continued.
The county employs 146 full time equivalent firefighters. Base salary for those six empty positions would be about $180,000 for entry level positions, not including benefits and retirement packages.
Commissioner Karl Peterjohn says the fire district is meeting response times so far and hiring more firefighters would mean a tax increase.
“We’ve had those positions open for awhile. Obviously fire protection is important but we’ve got to look at the budget issues as a whole as well as obviously looking at the separate levy that exists for fire district one in Sedgwick County,” Peterjohn said.
The county firefighter union says the empty positions are a safety concern and they need to be filled.
“We’re in a precursor state with the shortages in the north and the west part of the county where it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. It’s a safety issue and we deal with it on a daily basis, but we’re in Kansas and management has rights and that’s their decision,” said President Local IAFF 2612 Dave Thompson.
Public hearings will be held July 30 and August 11. The commissioners will vote on the budget proposal August 13.
You can read the entire budget here.