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Hall fire chief seeks to “thaw” frozen positions

POSTED: May 15, 2014 11:44 p.m.

Public safety costs account for about 46 percent of Hall County’s general fund budget. But with that revenue source strained in recent years, the county’s fire department has tried to help alleviate this pressure.

“We have streamlined areas, continued to operate in an extremely lean fashion and continued to shift the budgetary burden from the general fund to the fire district,” Fire Chief David Kimbrell wrote in a letter to county finance officials outlining his fiscal year 2015 budget requests.

The fire district fund, the revenues of which are generated through an ad valorem tax, supports the immediate resources and operations of the county fire department.

While emergency medical services and the emergency medical agency are supported by the general fund, fire stations, the training center and emergency services complex are supported by the tax. More and more, Kimbrell said, he is moving positions to the fire district to free up general fund dollars.

In the 2015 fiscal year, Kimbrell is seeking to increase the fire district fund by about $200,000.

The $18.3 million in funding includes $9.4 million budgeted for salaries, up from $9.2 million in the current fiscal year’s amended budget, and up from $8.4 million two years ago. The fund request also includes $2.4 million in health insurance costs.

Part of the rise in employee salaries stems from bonuses approved by the Board of Commissioners last fall. But Kimbrell has expressed concern that merit and cost-of-living increases, as well as the restoration of full retirement benefits, are needed to retain good employees and bolster morale.

“The largest area of my concern is the largest area of the budget,” Kimbrell wrote. “The human resources aspect is of dire concern to me. For the past several years, the employees have absorbed austerity cuts in an attempt to balance the budget.”

Kimbrell said he is hoping to “thaw” six frozen positions in the next fiscal year, including entry level firefighter/EMT positions and a fire inspector position.

Meanwhile, the proposed EMS budget is $8.5 million, up from $7.75 million in the current fiscal year. The EMA budget request is $133,000, up from $114,000 in the current year.

The fire district budget includes a capital expense request for $910,000 to replace vehicles. But Kimbrell said he is hoping another revenue stream will soon open up to support these costs.

If a SPLOST VII is approved by voters this fall, Kimbrell said he has requested that Hall County Fire Services receive $14.5 million over the five-year life of the tax to purchase new fire trucks, medical units and to relocate a fire station.


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