City Council members unanimously approved a four-year contract between the city and the DeKalb firefighter union at Monday’s meeting.
The contract between the city and DeKalb International Association of Firefighters Local 1236 addresses staffing levels at the fire department and includes no pay increases in 2021, according to the Dec. 28 agenda.
Union President Noah Mallard said the contract would “forever change public service and safety” in the community.
“[The contract] will change how we are able to operate at EMS calls, fire incidents, vehicle accidents, hazardous materials responses, technical rescue emergencies or whatever the citizens call for,” Mallard said.
The current minimum staffing level at the fire department is 13 firefighters, according to the agenda. Low staffing numbers are affecting the rising call volume in relation to COVID-19 to perform emergency medical services.
By FY24, the department would have an established minimum of 16 firefighters in a shift, according to the agenda.
Third Ward Alderperson Tracy Smith said in recent months, the DeKalb Fire Department has seen two firefighters leave after only working for a few months due to the number of calls the department was receiving.
“These guys are out there and they want to get there in time and getting to the hospital or doing on-site treatment quicker means more lives will be saved, so it does come down to people’s lives. I’m behind this 100%,” Smith said.
Seventh Ward Alderperson Anthony Faivre said that while EMS calls are increasing, the community needs to work on its non-emergency calls because it’s driving up costs for the city.
“As it’s already been stated, we risk sending out an ambulance and a fire truck and not having that available if there was actually a fire,” Faivre said.
Funding for local social services
Council members also passed a resolution for $150,000 to fund local social services beginning Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2021.
Every year since 1998, the city funds local non-profit agencies that provide essential social services, according to the agenda.
For 2021, a total of 16 applications were received and two new agencies applied. The overall requests totaled $204,500, but only $150,000 was awarded since the total amount typically has remained at or near $150,000 since 2009.
DeKalb resident Sasha Cohen said the city must invest more within the community amid the pandemic and due to the fact that all of the requests weren’t fully funded.
“The total proposed amount to these wonderful organizations is less than what was allocated in fiscal year 1998,” Cohen said. “To think that we should be providing less funding for social service organizations in 2021 – following a year in which poverty, food insecurity and illness have risen substantially than what we provided in 1998 – is an outrage.”
Funding in 1998 totaled to $184,000, according to the agenda.
City Manager Bill Nicklas said the funds come from general sales and use taxes, and that it’s not federal or state money.
“There was a little over $200,000 worth of requests. We didn’t have that in this year of being down about four and a half to $5 million, but we’re recommending that we maintain the same level,” Nicklas said.
Agencies such as DeKalb County Community Gardens, DeKalb County Youth Services Bureau, Hope Haven, Safe Passage, Voluntary Action Center and more will receive funding for FY21.