By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Two of Taylor’s three fire stations were not “closed,” as Chief Bob Tompos explained to city council Tuesday: They were “shuttered,” and the goal is to get those fire houses back in business.
“You shutter a place up when you plan to go back,” Tompos said. “We have every intention of going back.”
During a city council meeting that uncharacteristically began with a prayer — a guest minister asked for divine assistance with municipal struggles — there was mixed news for the Taylor Fire Department and the city itself. Negotiations remain stalled between administrators and public safety unions, but a budget amendment was approved that will restore three positions in the department.
“This is not a solution,” Tompos told council members. “It’s a temporary band-aid. I beg you to come up with a solution.”
So far, neither side has provided a solution to Taylor’s budgetary or public safety issues. Last week, two of the city’s three fire houses were temporarily closed, making the central Goddard Road station the base of all operations, vehicles and personnel. Layoffs in recent months reduced the city’s fire and EMS staffing to 36, a dramatic decrease from the 59 staffers on duty six months ago. The skeletal crew puts just 10 firefighters on duty each shift.
A temporary manpower boost was cleared Tuesday when the city council approved a budget amendment to move approximately $570,000 of revenue sharing funds to the general fund, allowing three firefighters to be recalled to duty.
“This amendment will add one body per shift,” Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Lamarand said that the decision to temporarily close the two fire stations was made by Tompos, who acknowledged the return of three firefighters but said he remains deeply concerned about the level of service that can be provided.
“What we’re doing is the equivalent of a donut spare [tire],” Tompos said. “Eventually it’s going to fail. We need 14 people on a shift.”
Speculation rose last week that emergency response times could as much as double for residents on the city’s borders, those furthest away from the Goddard Road station. Lamarand reviewed response times recorded for Monday — the first day of operating from a single station— and said that the average rose by only “a minute or two.” One response to the southeast corner of town was completed in less than three minutes.
“It’s a temporary solution,” Lamarand said. “Stations Two and Three aren’t closed; they’re temporarily shuttered.”
Public safety is just one area of uncertainty in Taylor. Another budget amendment will be necessary at the next council meeting to provide funding for November’s special election: Taylor must now pay for an election in which voters will decide whether to recall Lamarand as mayor. If successful, another special election will be required to seat a new mayor.
Calculating Taylor’s finances is another challenge, as the city council again failed to appoint a treasurer to replace Wayne Avery, whose resignation was given in June. In August, four council members approved the appointment of councilwoman Jacklyn Molner to the position; that appointment was vetoed by Lamarand who noted that Molner failed to resign from council and the appointment went against city charter.
In September, a motion to appoint Molner failed to gain a majority council vote, and the matter went unanswered. Last week, chair Cheryl Burke raised the issue of appointing a treasurer —which corporation counsel John Martin strongly urged — yet no council voice was raised to offer a motion of appointment. The matter ended without action, and the city will continue without a treasurer for the near future.