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Budgetary ‘housekeeping’ issue evolves into discussion over fire department needs

By Staff | Nov 27, 2012

Cape Coral City Council discussion concerning a 2012 budgetary “housekeeping” issue evolved into another look at funding needs for the fire department.

While discussing an ordinance that would increase the total of expenditures and revenues by $18.67 million, discussion arose concerning the need for a logistics officer for the fire department to oversee its aging fleet and make repairs on apparatus that need it first.

“Firefighters across the country are wrestling with how to prolong the life of the fleet,” said Cape Coral Fire Chief Bill Van Helden. “Part of the responsibility of the job would be to make sure we get maximum life from our fleet.”

City Manager John Szerlag said an ad-hoc committee has been formed, led by the chiefs of the police and fire department, to find a holistic method in making all departments better and more efficient.

He also said in 2005 the fire department was named one of the top 100 crews in the country, and that it is nowhere near that today because of the aging fleet and the need to replace equipment.

“Every piece of equipment needs to be looked at in all departments, not just fire,” Van Helden said.

The issue was contained in the amendment up for discussion.

“It was in the budget amendment. One of the items was this position,” Van Helden said.

In other business, council agreed to change the way it conducts meetings, at least on a trial basis, by allowing time-sensitive issues to be voted on during workshop meetings.

Council currently alternates weekly workshop meetings with voting meetings.

The trial period will be six months; if things go smoothly, the laws that govern the meetings would have to be changed.

Most council members had reservations giving up that workshop time with mixed opinion on the new plan to hold meetings on Tuesdays when holidays scrub a regular Monday meeting.

“I can’t achieve the preparation in four days that I can in 12,” Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said. “We can be 17 percent more productive by holding meetings on Tuesday.”

Councilmember Lenny Nesta praised the plan, saying there would be 44 opportunities to vote rather than just 19.

“We have a problem with due diligence,” Nesta said. “The caviat is we smooth out the schedule with the option to vote.”

Councilmember John Carioscia said that many civic organizations schedule their meetings on Tuesday because of the Monday council meetings.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail agreed there would be conflicts arising from Tuesday meetings after holidays.

Mayor John Sullivan’s biggest concern was whether citizen input would be as valued as before.

“If we do away with workshops, it excludes citizens input. They have great ideas, but their input would be ignored,” Sullivan said.

The vote was 7-1, with Chulakes-Leetz the lone dissenter, citing what he said would be the confusion it would cause for the public.