Personnel costs are biggest expense in new WCESD#4 budget
(Posted: Oct. 6, 2009)
See Related Stories:
As a small fire department, Liberty Hill has typically served as a training ground for young firefighters. Many start to work as volunteers, participate in the required training, and hope that one day they will be chosen to fill a paid position. Others are working at an hourly rate part-time while holding down fire jobs in other departments.
Assistant Chief Chancy Bizzell, who started his career in Liberty Hill as a volunteer, said the department relies heavily on volunteers and part-time personnel to serve alongside full-time employees. In fact, when volunteers and part-timers are not available, shifts are frequently staffed at the minimum level of three employees -- a number Bizzell considers to be short-staffed. A three-person shift becomes a problem if the department receives more than one call for service at a time, he said.
On Oct. 1st, Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 commissioners adopted a $1.226 million budget for fiscal 2009-2010 that includes $717,520 for personnel. Bizzell requested, but did not receive, an additional $35,000, which would have allowed a minimum of four officers on duty on each shift.
As the community continues to grow, Bizzell says it is becoming more common for Liberty Hill to receive multiple calls within minutes of each other. Minimum staffing standards set by National Fire Protection Association require three people on the engine and two on the brush truck, which responds first to medical calls. He says every other day, Liberty Hill receives multiple calls at the same time and many times, there are too few people on shift to respond to the second or third call. In those cases, they have to call a neighboring agency for help. Mutual aid agreements with Leander, Florence and Georgetown allow departments to back each other up when needed.
While WCESD#4 President Gene Gatlin says the staffing request may be reconsidered at some point and the budget amended, the District is beginning a new fiscal year with 10 full-time employees, who will earn salaries and benefits ranging from $44,793 to $75,748.
WCESD#4 Personnel Budget
The District Fire Chief, who has yet to be hired, will start with a base salary of $70,000. When insurance, retirement benefits and a car allowance are added, the package totals about $90,000. An employment ad
placed in various professional publications this week, shows minimum qualifications for the job as follows:
* High school diploma or GED,
* Texas Commission on Fire Protection Firefighter Advanced Certification with preference for Master firefighter certification. Be able to obtain a Head of Department certification from the Commission within one year of hire,
* A current Texas Department of State Health Services Emergency Technician certification (EMT-B) or higher, and
* 15 years experience within paid fire departments with five of those years in management and supervisory capacities.
The ad lists preferred qualifications in this order:
* Fire Instructor II or III with Texas Commissionon Fire Protection,
* Hazardous Materials Technician with Texas Commission on Fire Protection,
* Fire Officer I and II with Texas Commission on Fire Protection,
* Basic Fire Inspector or above certification from Texas Commission on Fire Protection,
* Bachelor's Degree in fire science, public safety, human resource management, business administration or closely related fields.
Bizzell said the pay and benefits package for the chief position is in line with other Central Texas fire chiefs, although if ranked it would fall on the middle to low end of the scale. He said Georgetown's fire chief is earning about $121,000.
Bizzell, who has said he will not seek the chief position, has a compensation package of $75,748 in pay and benefits this fiscal year. Although he was not given the title of Acting Chief by the WCESD#4 Board, as second in command Bizzell has managed the day-to-day operations of the department for more than six months. As a salaried or exempt employee, he is not eligible to earn overtime pay.
In addition to information regarding the chief's and assistant chief's compensation packages, the salaries and benefit costs of other personnel were provided to Radio Free Liberty Hill in response to an Open Records request submitted to the WCESD#4 prior to the adoption of the new budget. The requested information was provided to RFLH within the legal timeframe, but not until the day after commissioners adopted the budget.
Bizzell said WCESD#4 tries to be competitive with other Central Texas fire departments or emergency services districts that have similar numbers of full-time and part-time employees, and volunteers. He said when preparing the personnel budget for the new fiscal year, he looked at departments in Georgetown, Hutto, Jolleyville, Leander, Florence, Oak Hill and North Lake Travis.
As is the case with the chief's compensation package, he said local firefighters rank on the middle to low end of the comparative pay scale. As an incentive to retain experienced personnel, WCESD#4 offers full-time fire employees a 2 percent pay increase on the anniversary date of their employent.
"We want to eventually be able to compete with big cities," Bizzell said.
Starting or probationary firefighter pay is $33,000 in Liberty Hill. After completing the first year, base pay increases by 5 percent. There are two firefighters paid at this level now. By the end of the fiscal year, total costs of their pay and benefits will be almost $45,000 each.
Drivers are paid 5 percent higher than firefighters. Two employees, one hired in 2008 ($48,480) and the other in 2007 ($49,000), fall into this category.
Employees are eligible for the rank of lieutenant after two years of service, and their base salary is 6 percent higher than that of a firefighter. Two drivers will be promoted to lieutenant this fiscal year. While Radio Free Liberty Hill had previously published their names and salaries, Bizzell said Oct. 12 that he had not yet notified the officers of the promotions and requested their names be removed temporarily from the story. After the promotions, one who has been on staff since 2006 will have pay and benefits totalling $53,277; and another on staff since 2007 will earn $52,415.
Captains, whose administrative duties include the supervision of two to four employees or volunteers, are compensated at a rate 8 percent higher than a firefighter. There are three captains currently on staff. Mark Rosenbusch, employed since 2004, is the highest paid of the three at $60,874. Chris McKenzie, an employee since 2007, is compensated at $55,558. In the budget for Anthony Lincoln, who was hired in 2008, is $54,853.
Part-time personnel are paid at the rate of $10 per hour. There are six part-time staff members listed and each is expected to work 1,460 hours during the year for a total of $14,600 each or $87,600 combined. Bizzell said if the additional funding had been allocated, part-time employees would have been scheduled to work more hours to ensure that four were present on every shift.
In addition to the direct costs of an employee's pay and benefits, WCESD#4 must also provide training for all personnel -- paid and volunteer. This fiscal year, the District will spend about $29,000 on training.
"I would say 70-80 percent of our time is spent on training," Bizzell said. "All of us are required by the state to have a certain number of training hours every year, and our (WCESD#4) goal is to go beyond that. We want trained personnel working for our organization."
While the ESD does provide some training on site, most of the training is done elsewhere. In the budget, commissioners reviewed a list of proposed training events and their associated costs. The most expensive trip is a Municipal Fire School at Texas A&M University where Bizzell and Lincoln have been selected to work as instructors. Two additional staff members will attend the school and the total costs of tuition, certifications, per diem and travel expenses is $3,710 for 6-8 days.
The ESD must also provide uniforms and protective gear for all employees -- paid and volunteer. In the budget is about $24,000 for this purpose.
To outfit three additional firefighters, the ESD will spend almost $3,000 on structural bunker coats ($983 each), $2,000 on bunker pants ($709 each), $600 on helmets ($200 each), and $1,350 on swift water gear ($450 each).
Because of the increased numbers of volunteers, the budget for uniforms and station wear increased by about $6,000 over the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The ESD will spend about $14,000 on Nomex Uniform pants ($122 each), Nomex Uniform shirts ($70 each), uniform T-shirts and accessories (belts, name plates, badges, caps).