Signal Mountain Utilizing Some Part-Time Firefighters As Cost-Saving Measure

  • Tuesday, February 27, 2024
  • Gail Perry

The town of Signal Mountain is making some cost saving decisions. One of those is by hiring several part-time firefighters to supplement the full-time employees. At the Monday council work session, Fire Chief Larry Sloan asked for clarification and approval to add three more firefighters to the two that have already been hired. He told the council that there is money in the budget this fiscal year for five part-time positions. The two already hired were former firefighters for the town and the department already has personal protective equipment to fit them. Having the PPE for each, is one of the biggest expenses of hiring the part time firefighters.

Chief Sloan said a shift has a minimum of seven firefighters, and part-time personnel would cost less to than filling a vacancy rather than using and paying overtime to the full-time firefighters. The department’s budget now includes money to provide a second set of PPE for the full-time staff, he said. Ideally, he would like to have eight part-time firefighters, but the current budget of $25,000 to hire part-time will support five, which takes into consideration the cost of the protective equipment. The council agreed to begin the program using five part-time firefighters and will decide next year whether to add more. Currently the fire department has one vacancy for a full-time employee and interviews are being held for that position, after which it will be fully staffed.

Joining the Small Cities Coalition of Hamilton County has been under discussion since it was originally formed in 2016-2017, but the town has continued opting to not participate. The group is headed by Bridgett Raper, who advocates for the small cities that are in the county. Among other benefits, the cities are kept updated on legislation in Nashville that could affect the small towns and helping to create responses on their behalf. There also is a monthly meeting of the city managers from each municipality in the coalition where they share advice and Ms. Raper also provides public relations for the cities when it is needed. Every small municipality except Signal Mountain and Walden are members. It projects a coordinated effort, said Council Member Clay Crumbliss.

Councilman Crumbliss brought up the issue of joining, saying the new city manager could benefit from networking with the other city managers and from being aware of the impact on the town from state legislation. He asked to put the decision to a vote at the next council meeting. The cost is divided among the municipalities that are part of the coalition based on population. Signal Mountain’s budget includes the money for joining - around $25,000 for the year. Council Member Susannah Murdock said she feels as if Signal Mountain may be in a public relations vacuum sometimes. This would be like having a public relations firm on stand-by, she said. Council members Elizabeth Baker and Andrew Gardner said they do not see the value of joining.

Councilman Gardner said that the town is facing challenges now due to budget and personnel matters so the council should be finding ways to cut expenses. He said about $25,000 had been added to the salary range to attract a quality city manager, which he believes is a stronger way to use the money. Councilman Crumbliss commented that the decision should not be penalized because of overspending in other areas. It will be discussed again at the April council work session.

Matt Justice, interim town manager, informed the council about the opportunity of applying for two grants available from Public Entity Partners. One is a 50/50 matching grant for Cyber Security that can be used for tools, training or services. The reimbursable grant would be used for security of the town’s server, for which $8,000 has already been spent. The second grant is a Property Conservation Grant that the town could use for the purchase of additional security cameras to cover the entrance to the server room and for parking lots. The cameras could be added at half the price of $4,100, which is not in the budget. Both of these grants to boost security may be eligible for using American Rescue Plan funds. The town still has $400,000 left from ARP funds to allocate, with 10 months left to do it.

Public Works Director Wesley Stokes is working on revising the organizational chart for the department. The reorganization will need to be consistent with the new pay scales that have recently been implemented. The council members declined to discuss the changes at the Monday night meeting, instead asking for time to digest what Mr. Stokes has proposed and the impacts that may result from the changes. Mr. Justice said it will need to be decided before the next year’s budget is created. The changes to the Public Works department will be discussed at the March work session of the council.

The cost of the fiscal year 2024 audit has been given to Financial Director Jennifer Broomfield. The cost of up to $25,000 would cover the audit as well as a component know as “crosswalk” which is a new requirement from the state, and also a “single audit,” which is required if more than $75,000 is received from the federal government within a year. Jennifer Waycaster CPA will be conducting the audit this year.

Mr. Justice is recommending that the town update its emergency response plan to meet current needs. He said that the Hamilton County Emergency Management offers significant additional resources. Their plan is electronic and can be looked at specifically for what the town needs. He said that what is provided to the public should be shared in a smart way about what and how information is made public during an emergency. For instance getting information to people with a phone or text update would be more effective and secure than putting it on the town’s website. Discussions and decisions about this will take place at a future meeting.

There was a consensus of the board for Signal Mountain to participate in the White Oak Cooperative Partnership. The non-profit group located in Red Bank provides access to free bicycles, repairs and safety education to communities. Donations of bicycles can be taken to the Signal Mountain transfer station.

Four applicants for Signal Mountain’s city manager have been chosen for in-person interviews. Two will be held on Wednesday and the other two will be on Thursday from 5-6 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. both days. The interviews will be held at city hall and will be open to the public, but the interviews will not be live-streamed. On Thursday afternoon from 4-5 p.m. a reception will be held so residents who are interested can meet all four candidates. At a special called meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. the council expects to hold the vote for choosing the next city manager.

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