By CLARK MASON
The PRESS DEMOCRAT
With both the police chief and fire chief retiring in July in Healdsburg, City Council members were faced with several choices:
In the end, the council chose “C.”
After several closed sessions, council members decided earlier this week that the most sensible thing to do in tight budgetary times was promote from within.
“Ultimately, the council decided they wanted to achieve greater savings by using existing staff,” said City Manager Marjie Pettus.
The city projects a $800,000 deficit in fiscal year 2010-2011. By delaying replacements for Police Chief Susan Jones and Fire Chief Randy Collins, the city will save approximately $390,000, Pettus said.
“It helps us cut it in half,” she said. “We never would have considered doing this if we didn’t feel we had good, qualified people that could step into the roles on an interim basis.”
The council also wanted to retain as many patrol officers and firefighters as possible, said Mayor Jim Wood.
“If we felt it was damaging our ability to provide public safety for people, we wouldn’t have gone in this direction,” he said.
“Is this the ideal situation? We’ll see how well we can make this work,” said Councilman Gary Plass, a retired Healdsburg police sergeant. “By cutting at the top we hopefully won’t have to cut as deeply at the bottom.”
Three police sergeants are qualified to compete for the newly created lieutenant’s position, which will serve as acting chief.
“We can make a promotion as soon as possible, and that person can be my shadow until June 30,” said Jones, 53.
Collins, 51, also feels sure there are candidates able to serve as interim fire chief.
“I have a very high degree of confidence in my staff to continue to run this organization in my absence,” he said. “One of the reasons I’m retiring is, obviously the chief is the highest paid. By me leaving, there is a greater likelihood we can keep other personnel here.”
Collins’ salary is $139,000 a year, while Jones makes $149,600. But with benefits, including pension, medical and longevity pay, each chief costs the city about $272,000 a year, Pettus said.
Both departments have been decimated by budgets cuts as Healdsburg, like other cities, responds to reduced property, sales and hotel tax revenues.
Two years ago, the police department had 18 sworn officers and a $5.1 million budget. Next year’s budget tentatively calls for 14 sworn officers and a $3.9 million budget, Jones said.
The fire department’s budget has gone from $2.95 million last year to $2.7 million this year, with 10 full-time employees, a part time administrative assistant and 29 volunteer firefighters.
While the interim chiefs will handle operations, Pettus plans to be involved with budgets and other administrative responsibilities.
“That’s where my oversight will be,” she said.