In recent years, as municipal budgets have atrophied, city fire departments have become a source of contention in more than a few Indiana communities.
Anderson is no exception. And the fight over firefighting is holding the city's 2014 budget hostage.
Mayor Kevin Smith wants to reduce the number to 111. He also wants to close two fire stations and build a new fire department headquarters. Smith has a commissioned study that backs his plans.
Meanwhile, city council President David Eicks wants to maintain 116 firefighters. A study commissioned by the local firefighters' union supports an even greater number of firefighters for the city.
Eicks opposes the building of a new headquarters and the shutting down of additional stations. And he wants the mayor to appoint a panel of business people and other leaders to consider Anderson fire department needs.
Let's address each of the three issues — manpower, stations/headquarters and the idea of an independent panel to make recommendations.
Number of firefighters
Smith and Eicks are really not far apart — five firefighters currently — and this issue shouldn't be too hard to resolve. The mayor's number seems to have been calculated in a more objective fashion than the number suggested by Eicks, who is politically beholden to the firefighers' union. But compromise is still in order here.
For now, meet in the middle, so that the mayor and the council can move on to other important issues. Frankly, everyone's getting tired of hearing the political posturing over this one.
While Smith might be right when he says that the location of the current headquarters was influenced by politics, it doesn't make a lot of sense to build a new headquarters now and shut down other stations.
Not with the city strapped for money and the idea of the Mounds Park Reservoir in an important study phase. The population of the city could shift considerably over the next two decades; a headquarters location that makes sense now might not in 20 years.
Also, does the city really need a large fire headquarters facility? Wouldn't it be better to use smaller facilities scattered across the city to give quicker access to fires wherever they flare up?
Better communications technology reduces the need for a mother-ship headquarters. And the current facility is actually a good one.
This is just a silly idea and one that would lead to more political intrigue. Who would appoint the panel? Wouldn't the appointees have their own political bias or be directed from behind the scenes?
Besides, voters elect council members and the mayor to make these sorts of decisions — not to hide behind hand-picked panels.
In summary Fire issue resolutions: Compromise on number of firefighters. No new headquarters. No independent panel.