Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Todd Levent expresses some concerns during a recent county finance meeting that discussed the fire department’s fiscal year 2018 budget requests.
At the meeting, which was held Wednesday afternoon, Levent took issue with several new budget items, including a request for nine new personnel and six promotions, as well as doorbells the department has asked to have installed on stations.
The department, which would like to add a fourth firefighter to several fire engines, is requesting six additional firefighters, two fire inspectors and one assistant chief of technical services. It also wants to promote six lieutenants to fire captain and re-class one fire prevention training officer to a senior position.
The majority of Levent’s problems with the requests stemmed from a previous meeting members of the department had with Interim County Director Tim Merritt, which included a number of administrators that Levent said looked “like an entourage.”
“If you’re so short staffed, how do you have 15 people [coming to budget hearings]?” Levent said. “Is the fire department really trying to manage a little tighter? I was kind of for helping them, and then I saw those 12 people sitting out there in the waiting room. You’ve got to be kidding me — you can’t be short staffed.”
At Wednesday’s finance meeting, the committee detailed cuts Sheriff Ron Freeman said he is willing to make to reduce the $3.1 million the sheriff’s office originally requested in non-budgeted funds.
- 12 deputies, reduced from 16
- 5 jail deputies, reduced from 6
- 3 deputy sheriff first class detectives, reduced from 4
- 3 school resource officers
- $20,000 for a drone, reduced from $30,000
- $50,000 for automated license plate readers, reduced from $75,000
- Removed the 7 mindsets program expansion, originally priced at $50,000
- 6 fewer vehicles
Fire Division Chief Jason Shivers, a spokesman for the department, told the Forsyth County News the men who attended the meeting were all in charge of various aspects of the budget, which is why there was such a large group.
“None of the personnel present at the meeting were assigned to the suppression division,” he said. “All were from assignments at fire headquarters.”
Another point of contention for several finance committee members, including Levent and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, was a $65,000 request for doorbell-type additions to county fire stations.
Meritt said they would serve as alert systems for residents who come to a station overnight, when firefighters may be asleep unless the alarm sounds.
“The fire department is very concerned that their fire stations, if somebody comes up in the middle of the night or other times, they need to have someone respond to a person coming to a fire station [and saying,] ‘my husband’s having a heart attack here in the car,’” Merritt said. “This would be a push button to either door ringers to alert the [firefighters] if the people in there are asleep or to 911.”
Mills questioned why someone could not just call 911 from their phone.
“People have a phone,” Mills said. “Just dial 911.”
“They want every gadget available,” Levent added, “and they have all these extra people who, because they’re so bored, come up with all these ‘great’ ideas.”
Despite his disagreement with many requests, Levent said public safety is still the county’s top priority.
“The purpose of government, No. 1, is public safety; that should take priority over everything,” he said.
The finance committee will continue to meet through the summer, where it will refine the county’s budget until it is ready for approval this fall.