Fire chief promotes new pay plan for staff

By Jean Verlich: CNJ News Editor

Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman introduced his plan to retain experienced firefighters in a study session following Thursday’s City Commission meeting.

Westerman said the $272,000 plan that calls for revamping the pay and benefits scale for 74 of the department’s 78 positions doesn’t require additional funding.

“I achieved that by thinking out of the box,” he said.

In a steady tone, Westerman told commissioners the current pay rates are not able to retain personnel, which is creating a “daily struggle” in staffing five firehouses and three shifts.

“We can’t afford to have an inexperienced group of people,” he said.

Since January 2005, 42 employees have left, he said. The current staff includes 29 employees with less than three years experience, he said.

“Day to day it’s become more of a struggle to disperse that experience,” he said. “It’s walking out the door faster than what we can maintain.”

Westerman’s plan calls for leaving six positions unfilled in this year’s budget, and using the money saved on salaries and cost of benefits to upgrade the compensation plan. Five positions now sit vacant.

Westerman estimated the pay and benefits for each position at $48,000. Keeping six positions vacant would provide $288,000.
“(If we) use the vacated positions to fund this plan, it will be implemented much, much faster,” he said.

Money from future pay raises would be used to repopulate the six positions, which he estimated would take three or four years.
Two and a half years ago, Westerman said he asked for and commissioners approved adding six positions to the department.
“(It) didn’t do me any good,” Westerman said.

“I don’t need six more new people,” he said. “We have hired these six people seven times.”

Westerman told commissioners he would show the specific details at the Aug. 16 meeting.

Commissioner Lunell Winton said she looked forward to hearing more. “It sounds like a very innovative plan,” she said.

Commissioner Len Vohs asked what the impact would be of not filling six vacant positions.

“I have got to stabilize what we’ve got (before growing),” Westerman said, noting he did not anticipate any reduction in services.

“You’ve got your commissioners engaged,” Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Randy Crowder said.

In other business at Thursday’s meeting, Clovis City Commissioners:
• Voted to withdraw the sale of property on North Prince Street and reject two bids. City Manager Joe Thomas said the Commission felt neither was responsive. The sale will be revisited in the future.
• Approved $433,200 in budget changes, including:
1. $55,000 to purchase police car cameras
2. $160,000 for a high-reach traffic signal maintenance truck
3. $2,800 for an aerial camera on the main radio tower adjacent to city hall for live weather feed to news media.
Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Randy Crowder defended the camera purchase as a way to promote the city, adding, “I still believe there is a TV station that will pay for the camera.”