According to the FY 18/19 Budget Plan presented by Chief Dotoli on behalf of Huntersville Fire Department, Inc., they are seeking new funding in the amount of $171,039 to fund an “Incident Commander” position to be on duty 24/7/365. Chief Dotoli stated during his presentation to the town board on April 2 this position would be filled by five (5) existing HFD, Inc. members. The chief attempted to break this $171K figure down at the dais before the town board by claiming it amounts to $17.50/hr x 24 hrs a day x 365 days a year. If you do the math that equals $153,300, leaving a difference of approx. $17,739. The chief’s total amount requested is much closer to $19.50/hr. I’m still waiting for some clarification from someone on this discrepancy.
Paragraph 11 under the Agreement section of the town’s current fire services contract with HFD, Inc. makes very clear that HFD, Inc. is not a department of the town and that the town shall have no control over the operation of the fire department… and shall not approve or disapprove of the membership or in other manner supervise any element of control over fire department. This lack of any control over the operation of HFD, Inc. (except in limited cases involving equipment) includes decisions about salaries and personnel. The chief can make any claims he wants during a budget presentation, but HFD, Inc. is under no obligation to spend the $171K on five “Incident Commanders” if the town agrees to the additional funding. The chief has already made clear this funding will not be going towards new hires, so which existing members of HFD, Inc. does he intend to provide this additional funding to and how much does he intend to give to each of these existing members?
Since we all know government only grows in one direction, if the town board agrees to $171K for FY 18/19, how much more will HFD, Inc. ask for next year? $173K? $175K? Whatever the amount in the future it will become a permanent, recurring line item in HFD, Inc.’s budget and taxpayers will be obligated to fund it regardless of whether it is spent on “Incident Commanders.”
In most negotiations it’s standard to ask for more than you think you can get. You can’t really fault the chief for seeking an additional $171K of taxpayer money this year, but that doesn’t mean the town board has to agree to give HFD, Inc. any or all of what they ask for. It even says so in paragraph 5 under the Agreement section of the contract. “By this Agreement, Town is not obligating itself or future Boards as to the level of support given to fire department…” We’ll find out the town’s position on HFD, Inc.’s budget in a few weeks when the manager’s recommended budget is unveiled.
And just a reminder, according to HFD, Inc.’s most recently available audit they reported sitting on $1,221,987 in cash at the end of FY 2017. How does a non-profit amass over $1.2 million in cash? One budget cycle at a time.