What’s your plan? Fire chief, aldermen should present plan to end overtime now

Published 10:09 am Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fire Chief Charles Atkins and Vicksburg aldermen Willis Thompson and Michael Mayfield can’t have it both ways.

Atkins is leader of the city’s fire department, which by the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30 will have spent about three-quarters of a million dollars in overtime. That’s overtime above and beyond the “scheduled” overtime of 230 hours annually per fire fighter, already built into the city’s budget.

The mayor has clashed with Atkins and his supporters — the two Vicksburg aldermen — about this unbudgeted overtime and fire department staffing. However, Atkins and the aldermen haven’t offered any alternative plan.

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In fact, they have asked for an additional year or more of the same to get the situation under control somehow.

That’s simply unacceptable.

And that’s the kind of “my hands are tied” management of a city department the taxpayers of Vicksburg can’t afford.

Flaggs and experts have suggested the city close Fire Station No. 7 on Washington Street. Atkins, Thompson and Mayfield have balked at that, even though an expert commissioned to help advise the city said closing that department wouldn’t lessen the quality of fire protection here.

So, we ask Atkins and his two supporters on the city’s board aldermen: What’s your plan?

Continuing on with business as usual, spending an unlimited amount of money on unplanned overtime, simply can’t continue.

Yes, your job is to provide fire protection and safety services to residents of Vicksburg, but money to fund that fire protection isn’t unlimited, as you seem to think it is.

Come up with a plan. Present an alternative to Flaggs’ suggestion of closing Fire Station No. 7, if you don’t want to do that. Let the people of Vicksburg know how you would realign or otherwise do things differently to put that three-quarters of a million dollars of taxpayer overtime funds to better use.

That’s your job, to protect and serve the citizens of Vicksburg in the most cost effective way possible.

Your priority should be in filling any open firefighter positions. Firefighter jobs are great ones. It’s difficult to believe in today’s economic environment we must pay all this overtime because no one wants to be a firefighter here.

The Cameron plant expects to lay off 222 workers by November. Perhaps the city should contact those Cameron workers and recruit them for some of the city’s open firefighter positions.

Chief and Aldermen: Your job is to staff and manage a department in a way that it does its job in the most frugal way possible.

Right now, you’re not doing your job.

Vicksburg taxpayers deserve better. If you can’t cooperate and fix this horrific overtime problem, at their next opportunity, Vicksburg voters are likely to choose others who will.