The time for head-butting on overtime is over; it’s time for a solution

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. has now covered all the angles in the Vicksburg Fire Department.

He’s met several times over the past few months with Fire Chief Charles Atkins and his deputy chiefs, and Saturday met with 13 members of the fire department’s rank and file to discuss overtime and other issues affecting the department.

And he received the same message from the firefighters. The steps to reduce firefighter overtime will take time.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The mayor said Saturday the city cannot afford to pay more than $800,000 in overtime this fiscal year, adding paying that much again could force the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to raise property taxes for fiscal 2017, which for a politician in an election year is a dangerous thing to do.

So given the fact the changes necessary to reduce overtime are not going to happen overnight, and there is the potential of a millage rate increase next fiscal year, it’s time for both sides in the controversy to sit down at the table, open their minds and compromise.

No city the size of Vicksburg can afford an annual outlay of more than $800,000 a year in overtime pay for one city department, but the mayor needs to back off on his push to make drastic changes to reduce it immediately. Closing Station No. 7 may help reduce overtime some, but it reduces the fire department’s protection of the community it covers, regardless of how much its coverage area overlaps with another station.

He needs to give Atkins’s plan to idle Engine No. 4 and redistribute its crew as needed. Instead of 90 days, give it 120 or 150.

Chief Atkins needs to be receptive to new ideas to better run the fire department. The chief is a 30-year veteran of the fire department and has been chief for six years. He’s been a firefighter for a long time, and it’s easy for someone who has been involved in an activity for a long time to get complacent. This is no criticism of the chief, but he needs to be more receptive to new ideas. Flaggs says he has some ideas to better manage the fire department. The chief needs to sit down and seriously discuss the mayor’s ideas and make an effort to see how some, or all, could help better manage manpower and possibly cut overtime.

This has become too much of a political football and there was no need for that to happen. It’s time for both sides to stop acting like spoiled children and become adults and calmly and intelligently sit down discuss this situation, not with the closed minds of the past but with open minds and reach a solution. The art of politics is compromise, and that’s what’s needed here.

Mayor Flaggs after his meeting Saturday said he wanted to “get off the front page with the fire department.”

Unless he and the chief are ready to compromise and reach a middle ground in this situation, they could find a permanent place on the front page.