ANDERSON — The City Council is expected to resume fiscal 2014 budget deliberations tonight, but it doesn’t appear that key issues surrounding Fire Department funding have been resolved.
At issue is Mayor Kevin Smith’s plan to set Anderson Fire Department staffing at 111 firefighters next year, close two additional fire stations and build a new fire headquarters near St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.
In addition, City Council President David Eicks, D-at large, said Wednesday there is also concern about the location of a new City of Anderson Transportation System (CATS) bus terminal downtown and proposed spending in other departments as well.
“We feel the budget is balanced in terms of priorities,” City Controller Jason Fenwick said Wednesday.
The proposed $31.55 million spending plan for 2014 is substantially the same as this year, he added. “We feel we have a good budget and would like to convince the council of that, but are not sure that will happen.”
The proposed general fund budget may be “balanced based on their priorities, but it’s not balanced based on the council’s priorities,” Eicks countered.
Eicks, for example, wants Anderson Fire Department staffing levels set at 116 firefighters, and is skeptical of the administration’s plan to close Station 1 at 44 W. Fifth St. and other stations.
Smith’s plan is based largely on a study conducted by R.W. Bassett & Associates, an Illinois fire service consulting firm hired to evaluate the fire department.
A competing study prepared for Anderson Firefighters Local 1262 by the International Association of Fire Fighters last year relied on different criteria to evaluate the city’s firefighting needs.
Eicks said on Wednesday that the real solution probably lies somewhere between the conclusions reached in the two competing studies. He has repeatedly urged Smith to convene a panel of business leaders that would develop an independent recommendation.