One group of employees who have been protected from the City's budget woes has been the St. Louis Fire Department. While other departments made significant cuts in the last budget year (and residents paid higher fines and fees), the Fire Department's budget actually increased ' and it spent a couple of million dollars beyond its budget line.
It is certainly not news to anyone involved in City government that this situation couldn't continue indefinitely. In fact, aldermen and budget officials have been sounding the alarm for months.
The numbers make the reason clear.
Pension costs for the 631 members of the Fire Department have risen by $7,448 per employee. (By comparison, costs for other City employees and police officers have risen $360 and $1,863, respectively.) Nine months of discussion with representatives of the firefighters union has not resolved the issue. As a result, 30 firefighters must be laid off and some vacancies will not be immediately filled. Chief Dennis Jenkerson says that the changes will not affect public safety.
St. Louis has a very good and very large fire department. Other municipalities in the region rely on its expertise and manpower. These announced changes will address the department's budget issues for the short term, but unless skyrocketing pension costs are addressed, there will be more cuts in the future. It is simple arithmetic.