Mayor favors waiting until Jan. 1, 2015, to hire deputy fire chief

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Whether or not the city of Elk River should hire a full-time deputy fire chief in 2014 is being scrutinized.

The position is a new one and is in the city’s preliminary 2014 budget. It is scheduled to be filled on July 1, 2014, at a cost of $62,900 (pay and benefits for the remainder of 2014).

But at a Sept. 3 budget work session, Mayor John Dietz said he’s not in favor of filling the position until Jan. 1, 2015.

He agreed that the position is needed. But Dietz said he served on a task force that drafted a fire department strategic plan for 2013-2017, and during that process, firefighters were very concerned about the new position. Called the deputy chief of operations, it is part of a new fire department organizational structure laid out in the strategic plan.

With the new position in place, Dietz said it would “basically eliminate the assistant fire chief position as we know it.”

The assistant chief is a paid on-call position now. The new deputy chief of operations would be a full-time employee.

“We kept telling them that this (new) position could be hired anytime within the next three to five years, not within six months,” Dietz said. “I would feel like I was going against my word if we hired this position in July of 2014.”

Council Member Paul Motin said he’d like to leave the new position in the 2014 budget and determine later if the timing is right to fill it when they have more information.

Council Member Stewart Wilson agreed.

“If it’s the right thing to do, we should do it,” Wilson said.

The discussion came as the City Council reviewed the staff positions requested for 2014. The requests run the gamut from interns and seasonal staff to full-time positions, as well as several requests to increase existing positions from part-time to full-time.

A total of $165,050 in new staffing is in the preliminary 2014 budget, while $257,100 in staffing requests have not made the cut at this time.