Fort Worth police, fire chiefs warn of unfilled positions in city's budget crunch

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by JIM DOUGLAS and MONIKA DIAZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on August 15, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 15 at 10:45 PM

FORT WORTH -- The Fort Worth Fire Department chief made claims Thursday that may have some residents of distant portions of the city hot under the collar.

Trimming $3.5 million from the Fort Worth Fire Department budget will add, on average, 1 minute and 48 seconds to fire response, Chief Rudy Jackson told council members at a budget briefing Thursday.

The proposed city budget cuts 36 currently-unfilled positions.

Jackson said he’ll make up for the loss by taking four companies a day out of service at stations that already have two companies. There are four firefighters to a company.

Jackson said many parts of the city would see no response change, but the firefighters association has a more dire prediction.

“In some cases, it’s going to be a lot more than [one minute and 48 seconds,]” said Fort Worth Firefighters Association President Jim Tate.

According to the Fort Worth Firefighters Association, the deactivations would impact 12-of-42 stations, including Station 38 in far north Fort Worth. Response times for that station are already a bit higher than the city's average target goal of five minutes.

"More details are needed on how this going to impact people outside of the loop, which I think is going to be tremendous," Tate said.

He believes response times in this area could go up to an average of 8 minutes, 17 seconds.

Monique Masters lives near Seventeen Lakes Boulevard, about seven miles from Station 38.

We have a little girl, yeah so it's very important," Masters said. "It definitely worries me."

The Fort Worth Fire Department said in a statement to News 8 no decision have been made.

"The fire department will make every effort to lessen the impact that possible reduced staffing and funding may have on our ability to deliver services to the citizens of Fort Worth," the statement read.

But Tate also warned that slower response times could cause insurance companies to raise homeowner premiums, which would cost a lot more than $3.5 million.

“It’s going to cost taxpayers $25-to-30 million," he said. "I don’t think they’re going to like that.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the city would have time to adjust before anything that drastic happened. However, it's an indication of the tough choices council must make to close a budget gap of nearly $50 million.

Population and demand for service are rising, while police and fire are losing positions that have gone unfilled.

"In citizen survey after citizen survey, people want to see more neighborhood police presence," said council member Sal Espino.

Police got a $4.5 million increase, but the budget still cuts 46 vacant jobs. The extra money covers contract costs.

Police Chief Jeff Halstead said losing positions will be hard, but manageable.

"We're in a  good position,” Halstead told the council. “I know some of my colleagues have 5 and 10 percent reductions in years past."

Halstead said the department is trying to reduce response times by not sending officers to very low priority or even non-police calls. He said the department is also seeking an outside review to determine best practices.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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