Evanston City Council members asked the city manager Monday to look harder for ways to trim the fire department budget without reducing minimum staffing levels.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, detailed a list of $159,000 in alternative spending cuts that Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky and firefighters union leaders had agreed on and urged the council to substitute those for the $275,000 in overtime cuts City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz had proposed.

But Bobkiewicz noted that some of those cuts might only be good for one year, and others — like uniform allowances — would impact things the city had promised to provide the firefighters in collective bargaining agreements.

Bobkiewicz said that based on surveys of staffing levels in other communities he was less convinced than the fire chief that the city couldn’t cope successfully with the staffing reduction, but several aldermen indicated they didn’t want to take the risk.

The city manager said he’d try to have a new set of proposed cuts ready for the council’s next budget session at 6 p.m. Wednesday night.

The city now calls back firefighters on overtime pay if sick leave or other scheduling problems mean the number of firefighters on duty would drop below 26. Under the manager’s original proposal the staffing level would be allowed to fall to 23 before additional firefighters were called in.

That would require, under staffing rules, idling one of the city’s five fire engines when staffing was short, which the fire chief says would happen about two thirds of the time during the year. It would also mean longer response times to some incidents and fewer firefighters available to handle major incidents.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The gall and audacity of our City Council

    In this time of financial crisis, our city aldermen are fighting on behalf of the Evanston fire union to not only let them keep their annual merit pay increase but overtime as well. And of course, they do not want any layoffs of existing staff in that department.

    Meanwhile, the same aldermen are taking the ax to the branch libraries, Levy Center and such items.

    Let’s be clear: firefighters in Naperville for example took it upon themselves LAST YEAR to take unpaid time off and no overtime pay. The same was done this year even after Naperville aldermen reduced fire staff.

    So, while Evanston homeowners get hit yet again with another property tax increase in now the fourth consecutive year of property value decline, the Evanston fire union still want overtime pay, merit pay and no layoffs!

    In fact, the Evanston fire union has been demanding a PAY RAISE!!!!

    How insulting. Why is Alderwoman Ann Rainey searching and stretching to prevent cuts in the Evanston Fire Department?

    Other towns nearby have been doing without less. Skokie for example has more land but two less fire stations. Evanston has TWO fire stations a little more than a mile apart on THE SAME STREET!!!!

    This is just one more example of fiscally irresponsible government in Evanston. I guess the Evanston fire union has really doled out the campaign money to the Democrats. Our City Council is keeping up with their side of the bargain with the fire union.

    On an unrelated note: voter turnout seems to be very light as I write this. I predict that won’t be the case in November. There are a lot of people mad as heck and they won’t be voting for the incumbent or Democrat. And that sentiment will spill over into 2011 – just in time for Evanston elections!!!

    The Evanston fire unions can buy their chosen candidate the election and sway their votes but I’m hoping next time their campaign money would be wasted just as our tax money is.

  2. Seriously
    If they make cuts if the fire department and response time slows when you need them I am sure that you and people of your thinking will be the first ones to complain and place blame elsewhere.

    The City of Evanston has been poorly managing their money for a VERY long time. Why should they be allowed to continue to take it out on the backs of the people they have hired to protect the city? Would you want unpaid time off or on overtime pay for the time you work? The pensions are already severely under funded what more do you want?

  3. Time for a haricut
    We cannot afford the current fire dept. staff levels. Service expectations have to be adjusted and the City needs to get rid of a fire station. There are thousands of communities without such level of service. There are thousands of rural, semi-rural and suburban communities with volunteer fire departments. What’s the response time in rural America?

    Same goes for the police. And reduce the number of City Council members.

    p.s. where does all that money go that the parking enforcers collect by issuing tickets?

  4. I live between the stations

    I live in between the two fire stations on Central and Wilmette and Skokie fire both respond to calls in my neighborhood every day. I say lets get rid off the police and let the state troopers handle our police department.

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