Rescue, CERT cuts avoided

Ashland Fire Rescue could eliminate a vacant manager position rather than cutting its technical rescue team and the popular Community Emergency Response Team Program.

The Operations Division Chief position was authorized three years ago at a cost of $116,001 per year for salary and benefits. But three recruitment attempts have failed after top candidates turned down job offers, citing Ashland's high housing costs, Fire Chief Keith Woodley said.

Fire officials had been hopeful they could successfully recruit someone this year. But now the department's three existing managers would continue to be stretched thin so that other fire services can be spared, he said.

On Thursday night, the Ashland Citizens Budget Committee unanimously voted to cut the Operations Division Chief position. At an earlier budget meeting, committee members had asked fire officials to look for alternatives to cutting training, overtime pay and the Community Emergency Response Team Program.

Cutting the management position allows the fire department to reinstate $52,000 in training and overtime funding. Firefighters would continue technical rescue team training and working extra hours to cover community events like the Fourth of July festivities. Firefighters also would keep training residents to be self-reliant during disasters as part of the Community Emergency Response Team Program.

Also, the fire department would add back $64,000 to the CERT Program for materials and so that the CERT coordinator can remain a full-time employee.

Despite the add-backs, funding for overtime, training and the CERT Program would be $22,800 less for the coming fiscal year than the fire department had originally proposed.

The budget committee will review the entire city budget and decide whether to increase spending for departments at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St. The meeting could continue to 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Woodley said he is hopeful that the Operations Division Chief position can be restored next year if the city's overall budget picture improves.

City Administrator Martha Bennett asked several departments to propose 5-percent cut packages to help control city spending. The city faces long-term budget problems as the growth in the rate of spending outpaces growth in revenues. The city budget also took an $800,000 hit due to slowing development and a drop-off in the fees it generates.

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