Rochester won't seek fire millage for firefighters

June 29, 2018

Rochester City Council members said during a Monday, June 25, council discussion that they wouldn't seek a dedicated tax this November to help pay for potential staffing changes to the city's fire department.

Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik reviewed staffing options previously presented to city council which stemmed from a fire department study conducted by an ad-hoc fire committee formed to assess the current and future needs of fire services in the city.

Earlier this year, the committee earlier said the department's current structure of utilizing only paid, on-call firefighters wouldn't be a sustainable model for the department as response times are already lagging to emergency calls in some areas of the city, and will continue to lag in the future. In order to remedy the problem, the committee suggested adding additional full-time and part-time firefighters in order to staff the city's sole fire station 24 hours each day.

Cieslik said the option would likely cost the city an additional $600,000 each year.

On June 25, Cieslik presented council with potential funding options, a potential salary schedule and structure, and whether or not to hire new positions as direct hires to the city or to contract them through a third party, an option that Cieslik recommended. Using a third-party contract would avoid the need for collective bargaining with firefighters.

Councilman Ben Giovanelli and mayor Rob Ray both said they wouldn't support a dedicated millage for additional fire services this November, preferring to support the additional service through general fund contributions rather than an additional tax. Any effort to place a millage proposal on the November ballot would need to be approved by council and presented to the state by July 31.

Cieslik said the department is currently pursuing a fire safety grant that could provide funds that could be used to initiate the new funding structure. Whether or not the city may receive the grant should be determined later this year.

Councilwoman Kim Russell said she would like to explore the possibility of whether employing a public safety director to oversee both police and fire services would be beneficial.

Councilwoman Nancy Salvia said while she was in favor of some of the proposed changes, she would still like to see whether the city can pursue agreements with surrounding communities to increase response times.

The discussion ended without a formal motion. The council will continue to discuss the issue at its July 9 city council meeting.

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