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February 26, 2013

Fire station spending in council sights

Councilor Bruce Tobey said Monday he will argue at City Council tonight that Mayor Carolyn Kirk should dip into the city’s free cash reserves of nearly $5 million to reopen on a full-time basis the city’s Bay View and Magnolia fire stations.

Bay View is now open 10 to 12 days out of every two weeks, while Magnolia is closed pending repairs, Chief Eric Smith has said.

Responding to questions by Tobey at a council meeting earlier this month, Smith said it would cost approximately $600,000 to restore full service to the branches for the duration of fiscal 2013, which ends June 30, and $2 million for a full fiscal year, an amount that does not include the cost of a fire truck for the Magnolia Station.

“I respect need to build solid financial reserves, and we have done that,” Tobey said Monday in an email to the Times. “But this year’s free cash surplus ($4.8 million) represents an embarrassment of riches. We built it on the back of closed neighborhood fire stations.

“It is time to repay the neighborhoods by reopening their fire stations,” he continued. “The council should not settle for a recommendation that we spend relative pennies on the fire department while those stations remain closed.”

Kirk shot back Monday that “public safety is being politicized in a most unfortunate manner.”

“The reserve (financial) position of the city is very important, and free cash is an unreliable source of operating revenue,” Kirk said. “We need to look no further than this winter and the expenses of cleaning up from Blizzard Nemo and subsequent storms vs. the total lack of snow last winter, which caused our free cash to spike.

“Services will be brought back only in a sustainable manner,” Kirk said. “We are on our way to achieving this goal as we see Bay View station being reliably opened about 80 of the time. We expect this trend to continue and, in fact, improve. And as we perform repairs on the Magnolia station, we will see that station open more and more as well.”

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