Ga. FD gets $1M budget increase from city

The Athens Fire Department is planning to add six firefighter positions, reduce overtime, replace a fire truck and provide more training


Erica Smith
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

ATHENS, Ga. — With a $1 million increase in its budget for this fiscal year, which began Saturday, the Athens Fire Department is poised to add six firefighter positions, replace a firetruck and provide more training for new and existing firefighters.

The Athens City Council last week passed a $39 million fiscal 2023 general fund budget that includes a 5% cost-of-living raise for all full-time employees that will take effect Sunday.

Fiscal 2023 general fund revenue is projected to be $39.78 million, up from a fiscal 2022 budget of $34.4 million. While final numbers have not been tallied, Athens City Clerk Annette Barnes anticipates a surplus of at least $5 million from fiscal 2022.

Barnes said a projected $507,157 surplus in fiscal 2023 will likely be used to fund appropriations for nonprofit agencies.

Barnes said the fire department makes up 14.4% of the general fund. For fiscal 2023 the department was approved for $5.66 million, a 22% increase over its fiscal 2022 budget of $4.6 million.

Included in the fiscal 2023 budget is a $30,900 increase for turnout gear and bedding for the six new firefighter positions and a $7,200 increase for their uniforms.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said the department will be fully staffed once the six new firefighter positions are filled.

"We are several firefighters short already — not that there's vacancies but just short in order to staff-up the needs that we have. ... Staffing is a big, important part of growth," he said. "The six firefighters staff us to where we are safe, we are adequately covered in the fire stations."

Marks said the additional staff will cut back on overtime as well.

"When people have a need to take off and be gone, we're calling people in on overtime and overtime cost is, quite honestly, eating us up," he said. "We're better off hiring and training new firefighters."

Hiring all six firefighters will take time, Marks said.

"We go through a very good interview process ... so this won't happen immediately, but it will be phased in. The approval of the positions is the most critical thing that we got done," he said.

As part of the budget, the fire department will also purchase a new firetruck.

"We're replacing the firetruck that we bought in 2001. It's 21 years old, it's constantly in need of repair," Marks said. "They're just very costly when you start trying to replace $700,000 and $800,000 fire trucks."

The department's operating costs for this year's budget increased by $47,100 for training the new hires and current firefighters.

Marks said the training is critical.

Without the training, he said, "they're not much benefit to me or the homeowners out there. ... The training is as essential as getting the person. If I get the person without the training, then I don't have anything."


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Other departments also saw increases in the new budget. The Athens Street Department's operating costs increased from $451,800 in fiscal 2022 to $582,300 for fiscal 2023, a 28.9% increase. There was a 50% increase in automobile insurance and gas and oil.

This year's budget included a new line item with $40,000.

"There's a lot of discussion at these (council) meetings about residents wanting ditches cut because the weeds grow up. So, we added $40,000 to the Street Department budget just for outsourcing ditch maintenance," Barnes said.

The budget for Athens Engineering Services, Community Development and Building Inspection Department increased 37.7%, to $1.5 million.

Barnes said the increase is mainly due to three new positions: land site inspector, permit technician and technical coordinator. Project management tracking software increased the operating cost by $7,580. Barnes said the software will be shared between Athens Water and Sewer and the Building Department.

"The agreement was if Athens Water and Sewer would buy it, we would split the annual maintenance going forward," she said.

The city's administrative operating expenses were budgeted this year for $805,300, a 25.4% increase. The utilities, building maintenance and operating costs for the new Activities Center accounts for $76,400 of the increase.

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(c)2022 The Decatur Daily 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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