A protest organized by leaders of the local fire fighters union on Thursday was “a display of political theater,” said Mark Holland, the mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan.
Holland met with reporters on the 9th floor of City Hall to beat back claims by leadership of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 64, the union for Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department workers, that the mayor was looking to cut positions in the department and close fire stations.
Holland said a task force study remains underway that’s expected to answer questions about how to deploy the KCK Fire Department’s resources, given that population densities in Wyandotte County are shifting westward.
“Given the process that is under way, and given that the union is participating in that process, it is disingenuous and irresponsible of the union to draw conclusions about how we as a community move forward with strengthening our fire coverage,” Holland said.
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As Holland spoke, about 80 to 100 fire fighters formed a circle in front of City Hall with signs that read, “The city is burning us, are you next?”
Bob Wing, business manager for IAFF Local No. 64, said the protest was the result of what he said were Holland’s comments suggesting cuts to the fire department.
“The mayor continually is out publicly, for whatever reason, beating it up: There's too many fire fighters, too many fire trucks, we're going to rightsize the fire department,” Wing said.
Holland rejected the idea that any conclusions have been reached. He said no decisions have been made on closing fire stations.
He acknowledged that some of the city’s outdated stations might be replaced with new stations in locations that reflect changes in where KCK residents now live, compared to decades ago when many of the current fire stations were built.
A $4 million new fire station is planned for Piper at Leavenworth and Hutton roads, where new residential subdivisions are popping up.
Holland also said the fire department is not laying off employees. The 2018 budget envisions 457 positions in the fire department, compared to 473 budgeted in the current year. A federal grant paid for 16 positions in 2017, which was not renewed in 2018. The UG said the positions were eliminated through fire fighter retirements.
“The union’s leadership has made false claims about the Unified Government’s process in order to stir up fear ahead of the Nov. 7 mayoral election,” Holland said.
Wing said the UG did not reapply for the grant that funded those 16 positions.
Holland faces a challenge from Board of Public Utilities Director David Alvey; IAFF Local No. 64 endorsed Alvey.
Holland and IAFF Local No. 64 have frequently been at loggerheads during Holland’s administration.
About 60 percent of the UG’s budget goes to public safety. The fire department’s budget is about $56 million. Holland has wondered whether the fire department is spending its resources effectively.
In 2014, he commissioned a study by FACETS Consulting, which in 2015 recommended, among other things, closing four fire stations in eastern KCK, where stations are clustered more closely together.
The fire union disputed some of the FACETS study’s methodology and conclusions.