Iowa City fire-station future becomes cloudy

BY AMANDA McCLURE | MARCH 11, 2009 7:17 AM

Despite a pledge to build and staff a fourth fire station in Iowa City, city councilors on Tuesday took the salaries for the firefighters out of a now-approved fiscal 2010 budget, leaving the future of the station in limbo.

Bidding on construction for the North Side station will slow during the prioritization process — a system designed to determine the most important city projects — because the city does not have the $520,000 to staff it.

“The fire station remains a top priority for me, but rolling this into the prioritization process only seems fair,” Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said. “I’m confident that this project will come out on top.”

Councilors expect to know the project status by July 1.

The council vowed to build the station early last year, but the city has less money than originally proposed, leaving some councilors disappointed.

“This has to be one of the most painful things we’ve talked about,” Councilor Mike Wright said. “Birthing this fire station has been one of the hardest things we’ve done.”

But Councilor Matt Hayek, who proposed removing the staffing from the budget, said putting the fire station through the prioritization process was the only just way to move forward.

“I think it makes for better planning and more fairness to talk about the jobs we may have to cut to fund the fire station,” he said. “We can’t expand our personnel given the current economic and budget climate without removing staff in other areas.”

If the council were to fund the salaries of the nine necessary firefighters, 10 to 15 other city employees could be let go. Councilors had already cut $1 million from their 2010 operating budget at their March 4 meeting in order to counteract economic constraints.

Money from the federal stimulus package would be allocated toward the station, Bailey said. She is hopeful the project will only be delayed one month.

Flood-relief projects such as elevating Dubuque Street, reconstructing the Park Road bridge, and relocating the North Waste Water Treatment Plant will remain in the operating budget for fiscal 2010.

Wright said the only way he could accept the council’s decision to hold the station is because of the magnitude of the economic situation.

“This is absolutely not a normal budget year,” he said. “I think this would be a much different conversation if it was.”

In addition to the budget discussion, the council approved a measure that will fine those under 19 $500 if they are found in bars after 10 p.m. The fine is double the current punishment.

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