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Fire chief’s resignation could save city funds

City hasn’t calculated what that amount would be
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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City officials have not yet determined how to use the savings from Fire Chief Dave Whitt’s retirement. Today is Whitt’s last day as the Lincoln. He told officials last month he was retiring, according to previous News Messenger stories. City Manager Jim Estep said last week that the city still has to “pay out all of his vacation and sick leave.” “When you take all of that out, with the savings for this current fiscal year, it’s not like you are saving all of his salary and benefits for the year,” Estep said. “We are halfway through the year.” The savings from Whitt leaving are not yet known because they have not been calculated, according to Estep. “There is a difference between the ongoing annual savings we will get and the savings we will get in the current fiscal year,” Estep said. “When we get into next year’s budget, we will see the full savings of his salary and benefits.” It’s unknown whether Whitt’s position will be filled, according to previous News Messenger reports. Battalion Chief Mike Davis has been named interim fire chief as of Dec. 23, according to Whitt on Tuesday. Revenue from property and sales tax is also less than anticipated, according to Estep, which could affect cost savings from Whitt’s retirement. The savings from Whitt leaving would be discussed during the city’s mid-year budget review, which is tentatively slated for the Jan. 24 City Council meeting, according to Estep. “We will discuss all of the savings we have accrued during the year that may have been anticipated or unanticipated,” Estep said. The city manager said he will make a recommendation to City Council during the mid-year budget review about what to do with savings from Whitt and other General Fund employees no longer working here. Human resources analyst Sheila Van Zandt said Dec. 21 that five personnel from the police department have left since July 1. “Any savings from both Dave Whitt and other employees in the General Fund who have left will be put toward saving jobs in public safety,” Estep said. “That would be my recommendation. The council makes the decision.” The News Messenger asked Whitt how he’d like to see cost savings from his departure used. “If there’s any cost savings at all, it would be for our people so we can continue to deliver some sort of savings,” Whitt said. “We are so thin, so far down on where we are supposed to be that that’s the only obvious choice.” Whitt said the fire department was “already grossly understaffed” before the decision was made to lay off three firefighters in January. “We are amputating legs here,” Whitt said. “It’s not like tightening our belt; it’s amputating parts of our body. That is devastating for us, especially for a department that was well understaffed for a city our size.” The News Messenger asked Lincoln’s five City Councilman what direction they would give city staff for utilizing cost savings from Whitt’s leaving. “The question really is if we have a cost savings,” said Mayor Spencer Short. “That’s why we have to wait for mid-year review to see where our tax revenue is at.” Short said the city’s “suspicion is that our tax revenue may have dropped.” “Our No. 1 priority is still public safety but we have to find out how much of a true savings it is,” Short said. Councilman Stan Nader’s comment was that “we need to save a firefighter.” “The money saved from the fire chief leaving should be obviously put toward keeping a firefighter, although both departments are in desperate need of people,” Nader said. Councilman Gabriel Hydrick said he would like “to maintain as much savings as possible in the General Fund.” Hydrick suggested putting some of the savings toward “retiring debt” or applying the savings “to expenditures that the 248 fund is responsible for.” Fund 248 is the city’s development services fund. “Wherever the savings is applied, the primary concern is public safety and getting the best value in services for our money,” Hydrick said. Councilman Paul Joiner would not say how cost savings from Whitt’s leaving should be applied to the budget. “I’ll wait until we see the numbers in the midyear budget review before making a determination as to how best to proceed,” said Joiner. Councilman Tom Cosgrove said that “the chief leaving has a definite impact to that (fire department) budget.” “In my view, and I’m only one of five, we should keep the monies allocated for the fire department within the fire department budget,” Cosgrove said. “To me, I think providing it toward staffing is the most reasonable way of using those budget resources. It gives us better protection for our community by having more firefighters on staff.”