City officials in Tower should see the current shakeup in the city’s emergency services as an opportunity to bring professional leadership onboard while saving taxpayer dollars at the same …
City officials in Tower should see the current shakeup in the city’s emergency services as an opportunity to bring professional leadership onboard while saving taxpayer dollars at the same time.
The dismissal of Steve Altenburg as the city’s ambulance director and fire chief along with the recent spate of resignations from the fire department make now the time to end what had become a drain on city finances and city hall personnel. The city has paid out a steadily increasing amount of money on salaries for various positions of questionable utility to the city in recent years. In the fire department, four paid positions, including chief, assistant chief, training officer, and safety officer amounted to $1,325 per month. On the ambulance side, the cost of a director, two assistant directors, and a training officer cost $3,350 a month. The city also spent $200 a month for an emergency management director that no one has heard from for months, although the clerk-treasurer Victoria Ranua justifiably discontinued paying that salary for now. On an hourly basis, some of these individuals were almost certainly making well over $50 an hour, some probably twice that much in some months. In the case of the emergency management director, the city was paying $200 a month effectively for nothing.
As far as we’re aware, many of the individuals receiving these salaries never had to account for any of their time. That situation isn’t their fault, of course. It’s the city council’s job to determine whether public funds are being spent to the benefit of taxpayers. Fortunately, Ranua is, for the first time, starting to demand some accountability for the dollars that go out the door each month. That’s welcome but it doesn’t change the fact that having so many people paid to play poorly-defined roles is a poor way to manage.
All of these salaries do add up, after all. In fact, they come to $4,875 a month, or $58,500 per year. And that doesn’t include the shocking amount of time that city hall staff spend administering the emergency services, particularly the ambulance. That easily adds another $20,000 to the cost of administering the city’s emergency services.
For significantly less than what Tower currently spends, the city could afford to hire a full-time professional administrator, including benefits, to oversee its emergency services. This isn’t an unusual idea. In fact, it’s a commonplace approach used by many cities in Minnesota.
A professional, capable administrator would ensure that the city’s policies and applications were up-to-date, ensure that personnel issues were addressed appropriately, and that firefighters and EMTs were properly trained. A professional could write grants, manage department budgets, and deal with much of the billing and payroll paperwork for the ambulance service. Most of that workload has fallen in recent years on city hall because the city hasn’t had a fire chief or ambulance director who could handle that kind of higher-level work.
While the city is understandably eager to get permanent leadership in place at both its fire and ambulance services, it would be worth the effort to develop a job description for such a combined position and advertise it widely. City officials might be pleasantly surprised at some of the candidates who apply. If they don’t find the person they’re looking for, they can always advertise the positions separately as they’ve done in the past. There’s very little to lose by exploring the possibility. If they could land a quality administrator it could do wonders for morale, improve the quality of the services the city can provide, and save taxpayers money over the current cost of administering the city’s fire and ambulance.
Now is the time to make such a change. If the city opts to hire separate replacements for fire and ambulance, with existing or only slightly modified job descriptions, Tower will miss out on a golden opportunity to make a change for the better.