Rockford city leaders weigh in on a recent deal that cuts them out of airport fire protection.
Last week, Rockford's airport board unanimously supported outsourcing on-field fire protection. Right now, the Rockford Fire Department handles it. The company the airport will contract with, Pro-Tec Fire Services out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers the same service as the fire department and same manpower for half of what the city charges.
"They needed to do what they needed to do to meet their obligations and mission and I completely understand it." -says Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.
City of Rockford Administrator Jim Ryan explains, "When you look at an airport that's primarily funded with federal funds, federal funds are being cut, there's federal sequestration going on, they have to make some very tough decisions economically and this is one of them."
5th Ward Alderman Venita Hervey agrees, "They've got to really use their money to grow and expand their airport services."
This new contract, which can take effect in about six months will cost RFD around $600,000 a year. The city charges $1.2 million. According to Fire Chief Derek Bergsten, more than a million of that is wages and benefits for the eight full-time staff members they send to RFD. Airport executive director Mike Dunn thinks the city might have gotten greedy in what they were asking RFD to pay. But, Mayor Morrissey says the real problems are state mandates in police and fire pensions.
"It's a system that is very much out of our control when we look at the collective bargaining environment and passing on the actual costs to the airport, it would be unconscionable for me not to do that, why? Because those are the actual costs. It would be a hidden subsidy given to the airport if we didn't pass on those actual costs. So now, the airport's doing something they probably should do because their costs are too high, right? And they have an option. If we had an option within our collective bargaining agreement, we'd have to do the same thing." -he explains.
With budget talks about to begin in city council, leaders say this shortfall could mean tough decisions.
"We want to try to be able to absorb as many of the existing personnel that are impacted by the contract termination. We have some vacancies, we have an existing labor arbitration that we have to wait and see what impacts that will have on our budget, but this will certainly be a discussion in our budget and hopefully we can minimize if not eliminate any layoffs." -Ryan says.
Budget talks begin for city council members at the end of this month. We tried contacting Pro-Tec Fire Services management for a comment on this deal, but the company president declined.
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