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Watertown City Council OKs $56,000 study of fire department

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WATERTOWN — City officials should know in less than six months what the staffing level should be at the Fire Department and whether it has the right types of facilities and equipment.

On Monday night, the Watertown City Council agreed to spend $56,000 to hire the International City/County Management Association to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the Fire Department, despite the objection of the local firefighters union.

Firefighter Mark W. Jones, president of Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191, objected to the selection of ICMA as the consultant doing the study, calling it a lobbying group for municipal managers. He told council members that it would be an unfair assessment, since City Manager Sharon A. Addison belongs to the organization.

“As such, Local 191 views the proposed appointment of ICMA to be suspect and blatantly biased,” he said, adding it would be the equivalent of hiring the International Association of Firefighters to complete the study.

The union offered to pay for half of the study if the city commissioned one that’s “equitable and fair to all parties.” The city did not take up the offer.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said that he and the union just disagree, saying it was part of collective bargaining. He told Mr. Jones it’s a traditional management decision to consider staffing levels.

Afterward, Mr. Jones said it was obvious council members had made up their minds before the meeting about hiring ICMA. “It was a done deal,” he said.

After getting a recommendation from the New York Conference of Mayors, Ms. Addison proposed hiring ICMA, an association representing professionals in local government management, to conduct the study.

The assessment would include looking at the department’s organizational structure, studying actual workloads, identifying appropriate staffing and looking at response times, equipment and facilities.

The study may begin by the end of June. It would be completed within 135 days.

During city budget discussions, council members informally agreed the department, which has an $8.8 million budget, should be evaluated. They said a study is needed to determine the efficiency of the department and whether the staff level, at 78 members, is appropriate.

The consultant team includes experts in public safety, analyzing public safety departments’ workload, public policy and fire and EMS data analysis. The organization has completed more than 200 similar studies, including some in New York, Ms. Addison said.

The last fire department study was completed in 2002.

At any given time, 15 members of the Watertown Fire Department are on duty. The department has a main fire station on South Massey Street and two substations, one on Mill Street and the other on State Street.

The union would have to agree to any staffing changes. The contract expires in June.

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