BRISTOL, VA (WJHL) – Bristol, VA city council heard from citizens Tuesday night in a public hearing following their decision to no longer cut 10 firefighter positions.
Vice Mayor Archie Hubbard told News Channel 11 city council came to a consensus last week following a presentation from the International Association of Firefighters.
That association presented their data to council at a meeting last week showing that if employees were cut as well as a fire station, call times would drastically increase, they are already understaffed and the public’s safety would be at risk.
Dozens filled Virginia High School’s auditorium for the public hearing.
“Tonight we’re here to hear from you,” Mayor Bill Hartley said opening up the meeting. City Manager, Tabitha Crowder presented budget slides to council and the audience, “I have been notified that the consensus of city council is to restore the 10 and a half firefighters positions,” Crowder said.
Following the firefighter funding change the city will now have $1.1 million in the reserve fund, a fund they’re trying to grow as the city deals with $100 million in debt, half of it from The Falls project.
“I felt it was too drastic of a cut at this point in time,” Mayor Hartley said.
The Bristol, VA Professional Firefighters Association officials who came out to the public hearing said they’re at ease following the news but there’s still work to be done.
“We still understand there’s probably an education factor for the council members understanding our jobs better and hopefully we can educate them, make them understand why we need the jobs that we need for the community,” Michael Wise of the Bristol, VA Professional Firefighters Association said.
Former Bristol, VA students also made their way to the podium telling council how grateful they are for their education and experiences but they’re concerned about cuts to the school system.
“I think it’s safe to say that we have sacrificed as much or more than any other departments,” Keith Perrigan, Bristol, VA City Schools Superintendent said.
Perrigan said they’ve cut nearly five more positions this year and they’ve offered to give back $75,000 from their capital improvement account to help the city with their debt and he understands the students’ concerns.
“We’ve made a lot of sacrifice over the past ten years I don’t know how much more that we can make,” Perrigan said. Perrigan added that they’ve cut or absorbed nearly 60 positions over the past decade and this year’s cuts should have minimal impact on students.
Lifelong Bristol resident, Nancy Marney thinks council did the right things to not cut firefighters and she’s optimistic. She believes the city needs to restructure, reorganize and redefine.
“Sometimes you have to break something down and build it back the way it should be and I think that’s what they’re doing and that’s what I hope they will do,” Marney said.
We spoke with Councilman Kevin Mumpower tells his research previously presented to council, questioning how many firefighters work for the fire department lead them down this path of new information from the International Association of Firefighters.
The new information shed light on a gap in service in the middle of the city and closing the downtown fire station would cause a bigger problem and he could no longer support the changes. Mumpower said council is going to have to study where the fire stations need to be located for proper coverage and possibly putting emergency vehicle access bridges at a certain location to make travel easier. Mumpower added that no one has proved to him that the department is over staffed relative to other cities and that still need to be reconciled.
Councilman Doug Fleenor previously supported the cuts to the fire department but changed his mind after hearing from and seeing firefighters and their families at last week’s meeting. He’s hoping for cuts to private agencies like Believe in Bristol and the Chamber of Commerce as the city works to fix the mistakes of previous council members.
“Realistically I haven’t seen any data that says any of these outside agencies that we fund, private agencies, have been able to fund a penny back to this city,” Fleenor said.
Fleenor added that if the city goes bankrupt they will figure it out. Mayor Hartley said in the Commonwealth of Virginia a municipality can’t legally file for bankruptcy and the city is paying their bills on time as they work to build up their reserve fund. The city needs income from The Falls to help satisfy future debt payments as they work to restructure their debt and he’s hoping for announcements of new developments at the shopping center soon.
Councilman Wingard asked for a called meeting for council to discuss Tuesday night’s public hearing, that meeting is set for June 6 and 6 p.m. The first reading of the city’s budget is scheduled for June 13.
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