LP fire chief slot open as budget struggles continue

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — Election season left the city — and its fire department — with more questions than answers.

A few days before balloting saw the end of Fire Chief Paul Murray’s tenure, whose resignation was effective Nov. 2. Among Murray’s final acts as department head was to notify the Federal Emergency Management Administration that the city regretfully could not accept a staffing grant of $600,000.

City officials maintained that the grant did not cover all costs; the addition of a few firefighters did not trump the added financial strain. Lincoln Park anticipates a budget deficit of up to $3 million next year, and City Manager Greg Capote said that — barring any unforeseen changes — layoffs are likely.

“The grant had strings attached,” Capote said. “In light of the election, the financial condition continues to worsen. Layoffs are imminent, they’re going to happen.”

Voters in Tuesday’s general election rejected both a bond proposal and a Headlee Amendment override, the latter of which would have generated an additional $300,000 for the city’s general fund.

The federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant would have allowed the city to add three firefighters to its current 27. In September city council voted to decline the grant due to hidden costs and a “no layoff” clause.

Prior to leaving Murray revised the grant to have the funds earmarked for the retention of current positions, but Capote said that there remained too many obstacles that would further strain the city’s finances.

The Fire Department’s current contract with the city includes a no-layoff clause that expires on June 30, 2013. Capote said that, given the current outlook, firefighters likely will be among the layoffs needed next year to balance the budget.

No appointment was made for Murray’s successor prior to his departure. Capote said the city has 120 days to name a permanent replacement, and that an interim chief soon will be appointed. Under the terms of the city’s contract with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1292, the position must be filled by an employee of the department and appointed by the Public Safety Commission.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)