This question is whether or not the Council is correct is using the word “permanent” when making the reductions within the Sparks Fire Department.
As an adjective, the dictionary defines “permanent” as “intended to exist or function for a long, indefinite period without regard to unforeseeable conditions”
Our question is simple: Could the Council, which is between an economic rock and a hard place, have made a different choice regarding this language? A temporary 7.5 percent salary reduction for the coming year seems reasonable with the caveat that these cuts may go away, continue or get deeper, depending on the economic conditions.
Our concern is not with the Fire Department’s contract discussions but with the safety of residents and response time that may be affected when the 11 firefighters are laid off permanently. While the city may want to make the cuts to the fire department permanent, we don’t foresee the fire danger getting smaller. The people will still need protecting no matter what the economy does long term.
Besides an obvious effect on morale within the department, how will the department get up to the recommended level of protection if these cuts are permanent? It could take years to regain the current level, which already has a low firefighter to resident ratio. And if the firefighters had agreed to make the 7.5 percent wage cut permanent, how much ground would they have lost in future negotiations to get a fair wage? It could also take years to regain the current wage level.
The Council, as we have stated, is in a tough situation and the members are doing what they think is best for getting the city’s finances under control. The community development department has been trimmed to 16 employees from 84 two years ago — a level that might have been a stretch in hiring in the first place.
The fact that the city is able to keep six police officers on duty using a federal grant is welcomed, however the grant is for three years only and after that the city must absorb these salaries, which means they will have to find about $600,000 in year four. Under the terms of the grant, a severe budget crunch would allow the city to lay off these officers in year five.
We hope the city and fire department continue to meet to resolve this issue before the deadline for submitting the budget to the state. We believe that a compromise of using the word temporary with an understanding that negotiations could continue next year would be a step in resolving this impasse and allow the citizens the comfort of knowing that emergency services will not be compromised — for now.