Fight heats up over Wilmington Fire Dept. budget

Wilmington may be just a few days into its new fiscal year, but there’s already a proposal to reduce the amount spent on the city fire department by nearly half a million dollars.

Councilman Mike Brown has introduced a measure that should cut the FY 2015 appropriation for the Wilmington Fire Department by $447,000. The funding cut would come from eliminating seven vacant positions within the department.

According to a synopsis of the ordinance, the cuts would enable the department “to operate at maximum efficiency.” 

Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode opposes the cuts, issuing a lengthy statement that accused city council leaders of playing politics with the lives and property of Wilmington residents.

“I cannot sit back and quietly allow residents, visitors, businesses, property and of course the lives of our firefighters to be placed in harm’s way,” Goode said.

Brown’s ordinances cites the length of time the vacancies have gone unfilled as evidence that they can be eliminated with no impact on the department’s operations.

“One of the positions has been vacant for more than three months, five positions have been vacant for about two months,” according to the synopsis.

Eliminating vacant positions wouldn’t actually save the city money, Goode said, unless the department closed down certain fire engines. City council lacks the authority to close engines, so the eliminated positions would need to be filled by overtime hours.

“Our response times will increase, we will not have the needed resources on seen [sic] to effectively provide services in a timely manner,” Goode said of the threatened cuts. “Property loss resulting from fires and other incidents will increase.”

Brown’s proposal will get its first reading at tonight’s City Council meeting. Goode plans to announce his intentions to hire probationary firefighters to fill some of the vacancies at next Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting. 

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