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The gallery of council chambers was full Tuesday night at the Metropolis City Council meeting and most were there because of one motion on the agenda under the Police and Fire committee. After reading aloud the policy to be adopted, Chuck Short, Ward 1 and chair of the Police and Fire committee, asked for a motion regarding the future hiring within the police and fire departments.

During an Oct. 31 Police and Fire committee meeting, aldermen were presented with a statement from Public Safety Director Harry Masse requesting to keep a minimum of nine full-time firefighters to allow them to have two per shift. Masse reminded the committee members the fire department is prohibited by Illinois State Statute to run First Responder calls with only one person on shift, leaving those calls to go to the ambulance department at Massac Memorial Hospital.

Masse urged the aldermen to consider the demographics of the town and those needing first Responder Care -- an aging population, multiple housing complexes, special needs facilities, nursing homes, hotels and interstate traffic.

Masse asked permission to hire a firefighter to fill the vacancy created by the sudden passing of Captain Chad Parker in October. "I am not asking for a captain's promotion. Every time I have asked for manpower in the past, I've been told that it cannot be done because the position has not been budgeted for. We have this in the budget -- both a 20-year captain position as well as the position created by the retirement of Blaine Funkhouser. The captain's salary will cover the cost of both new hires," Masse says in the statement.

The open position created by Funkhouser's retirement has been filled. To fill the position, the Metropolis Professional Firefighters Local 3367 had to get a memorandum of understanding signed between the union and the City of Metropolis to ensure the position would be filled.

"I move that the city council adopt the following policy statement: Due to continued declining city revenues and increasing costs created by the state of Illinois. The city anticipates it will employ no more than 12 police officers, not including the chief of police, and no more than seven full-time firefighters in the future when existing staff leave their respected service for any reason," Short said when bringing the motion before the council.

The motion passed with Jeremy Holley and Chad Lewis, both Ward 4, voting no.

In 2008, the department had 13 full-time firefighters, and since that time has not been able to replace those who have retired. There are currently eight full-time firefighters, with one being close to retirement.

Union President Bobby Wiliams says the citizens should be concerned. "Citizens should be concerned about the decrease in staffing, which is a decrease in all aspects of the services we provide," Williams said. "Fires, vehicle crashes, hazardous materials, technical rescue, medical responses, etc. Taking away staffing, you are taking away those services putting us at risk and short changing the public. Trying to do more with less is not effective," he continued.

Besides the scheduled shift with only one person on duty, Williams says there will be many more shifts with only one firefighter when vacation and sick days are used. He says they are not allowed overtime to help fill these shifts, and haven't been allowed overtime since 2011. There are six on-call firefighters, but most work daytime jobs they can not break away from to fight a fire, according the statement from Masse.

Metropolis Mayor Billy McDaniel says these changes are necessary because of the declining revenue, and all city departments are feeling the budget cuts. According to McDaniel, the payroll, benefits and pension cost for both the police and fire departments for 2018-19 was approximately $4.1 million dollars, and the riverboat gaming revenue received by the city during the same period was $3.8 million.

In other business, the council:

• Presented a Certificate of Recognition to Hunter Thompson for helping a neighbor during a dog attack.

• Approved the paint pavement marking on North Avenue from the county line to 11th Street in the amount of $1665 to Pinoy Construction

• Approved a payment to BHMG for the Electric SCADA system in the amount of $2000.

• And, adopted a proclamation commemorating Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2020 as School Choice Week.

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