Aldermen say “no” to hiring three new firefighters

By Gary Scott on May 10, 2016 at 6:48am

Alderman Tony Williams (left) talks to Finance Committee Chair Don Cook (second from right) during a Finance Committee meeting last night.

Jacksonville aldermen turned down the city fire chief’s request to immediately hire three new firefighters on Monday night.

The city’s Finance Committee instead pushed forward a resolution to be added to a future City Council agenda to hire one new firefighter in 2016.

Fire Chief Doug Sills last week said hiring a trio of firefighters would address staffing issues at the fire department substation on the west end of town.

Committee chair Don Cook said he was “disappointed” the request from Sills wasn’t brought to aldermen earlier in the year. Cook called the hire, which would cost nearly $213-thousand, a “large budget item”.

He says while he had the utmost respect for firefighters, due diligence has to be done for Jacksonville taxpayers.

“If this was going to occur, we needed this to be presented to us early on in the budget process. So, that money was never budgeted to hire three new firefighters. Basically, we want to do a little research, because there is grant money available that will save the city some money and save the taxpayers money,” says Cook.

Other aldermen also expressed concern about the financial impact of hiring three new firefighters right now.

The substation has been open since 1972 and originally had six firefighters. It’s down to two now, and Sills last week said those numbers could expose the city to liability issues after a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision regarding the dropping of the “duty clause”.

Aldermen directed City Attorney Dan Beard to look into what kind of liability the city could be facing, but Beard said the elimination of the duty rule was a concern, saying it’s thrown a scare into all first responders.

Sills told us he wasn’t disappointed with how aldermen responded to his request.

“Everything is a process, and we’ll keep at it. It’s an important issue for us on the staffing level side to provide proper response, and make a safe community as a whole. That’s the end goal of this,” says Sills. “And I really do appreciate the City Council and all the members taking their time and actually looking at the issues that we’re embattled in.”

Sills adds hiring one firefighter, if aldermen pass the resolution, will help.

“It’ll increase our staffing at the substation by a percentage. It’s not going to fix the problem as a whole, but moving forward from here, it’s definitely a start,” he says.

Cook expects that even with the additional firefighter, the staff level won’t stay plus-one for long because of expected attrition.

Also last night, Jacksonville aldermen narrowly approved a feasibility study for how to improve the brick road portion of West Douglas Avenue. The vote was 5-4 in favor, and there was plenty of discussion on the matter. We’ll go into more detail on that story this afternoon.

In other general meeting business, City Council members approved a Public Protection item regarding the acceptance of proposals for bids on electrical, heating and cooling, plumbing and interior work for the Jacksonville Police Department Training Facility.

Aldermen approved a motion to modify the agreement between Jacksonville and the North Morgan Water Co-op that will see the cooperative purchase 700-thousand additional gallons of water.

Aldermen approved a resolution for a site access agreement with Reynolds Consumer Products. It was indicated the company wants to do some testing on land that is on the Lake Mauvaisterre shoreline.

The agreement mandates the property is returned to the condition it was in, and that Reynolds shares the test results with the city.