City of Wichita weighs Fire Department cuts

Mayor Carl Brewer said he plans to meet this week with the president of the local firefighters union to discuss concerns over proposed budget cuts.

Rocky Bumgarner, president of the local International Association of Fire Fighters, spoke Tuesday during a public hearing on the city's proposed 2011-12 budget. He said proposed changes would affect public safety and employee morale.

"You cannot do the same with less," Bumgarner told City Council members. "You do less with less."

Several council members questioned city staff about the proposed changes, which would save the city about $175,000 a year. The budget calls for reclassifying five captain positions to lieutenant, eliminating a medical coordinator and cutting one fire medical officer.

Council member Paul Gray pointed to new clerical positions and multiple levels of management in the Fire Department as possible areas to cut. Additional secretaries, he said, are sometimes a symptom of bloated government.

"During times like these... you do more of those things yourself, and you don't hire a secretary or a clerk to do those things," he said.

"Sometimes you have 100 people doing 80 people's jobs just because you've always done it that way," Gray said. "If you get these 80 people to do what they're supposed to be doing, you don't need the extra 20."

City Manager Robert Layton said the budget recommendations were made in concert with Fire Chief Ron Blackwell. Both men said Tuesday that they didn't think public safety would be affected.

"I don't believe it's going to provide any real difference as to what you see when you dial 911," Blackwell said.

Brewer said he plans to meet with the union president to talk about the recommendations and explore alternatives.

"We look at public safety — police and fire — as the No. 1 priority for this community," Brewer said.

"We've done things maybe the same way for so long, maybe it's time we start looking at doing things differently."

Tuesday's public hearing was the first of two on the proposed 2011-12 budget. The second is Aug. 10, at which time the council will vote on the budget.