By RACHAEL LONG
After a lengthy discussion, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Thursday to approve the town’s proposed budget with an amendment to remove the public information officer (PIO) position and an amendment to add a $100,000 line item toward staffing the fire department.
The town of Nolensville is facing growth, and with it, increased requests for information. Mayor Jimmy Alexander explained that the town has felt the effects of these requests and that town staff would benefit from having someone dedicated to communications.
In the budget, the PIO position was listed at $45,000. After word got around to residents, news of the position took social media by storm. The mayor told Home Page in early April that the money associated with that line item — $45,000 — was not meant to be used entirely for a part-time PIO salary.
Alderman Derek Adams proposed that money be used elsewhere, noting that he thought the duties of that person might fall under the Town Administrator or other current staff positions.
While Alexander held the position that he thought the PIO would benefit the town, the vote to remove the PIO position from the budget was unanimous.
Adams continued, making a motion to allocate the $45,000 plus an additional $15,000 toward a salary for a full-time paid fire department chief. The goal, Adams said, would be to take the time to hire a chief by Jan. 1, 2020 and have that person begin to transition the department to a combination fire department — staffed in part by volunteers and in part by paid personnel.
Adams’ idea is that the combined $60,000 would be a pro-rated salary from January through the end of the fiscal year.
As the town has heard concerns from residents about the growing needs of the Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department (NVFD), Vice Mayor Jason Patrick said he’s been in talks with the NVFD Board of Directors President Tom Seyfried.
One of the department’s needs, Patrick said, is finding adequate staffing on the weekends. Patrick proposed the town donate $40,000 to the NVFD to match the funds the fire department came up with toward some kind of stipend program that would help entice volunteers to work weekend shifts and help cover areas of the NVFD’s staffing need.
“I feel as though, with the growth of the town, at some point, we are going to have to transition into a combination department,” Seyfried told the board. “The first step…is a paid chief who has experience in that type of transition…that’s where I feel we’ve gotta get someone in here. Because I don’t know how far down the road that is, but I feel it is coming if the growth continues to go the way that it’s going.”
During his regular report to the board, Fire Chief Adam Spencer was asked by town leaders whether his priority would be in getting a paid fire chief or some paid personnel. Though he admitted he would need to give that question more thought, Spencer said he would prefer to have firefighters who would be there to respond to a call.
“I fully support Chief Spencer, if he says, ‘This is what I need, as far as staffing, and I need this now,’ then I fully support that,” Seyfried said.
Part of the discussion about the NVFD’s “many moving parts” centered around questions raised about insurance liabilities, legalities, the structural hierarchy of the NVFD, the complications surrounding nonprofit funds versus municipality funds, taxes and more.
“I think what’s important to note, and I think you’ve touched on this, is from a fiscal standpoint, this can’t wait another 12 months,” Seyfried said. “We’ve got to do something staffing wise now. We have needs right now for staffing.”
Talks arose Thursday of forming a special fire services committee — made up, in theory, by the fire chief, the NVFD board president, some NVFD board members, some board members and even an external fire chief — tasked with investigating the next steps for a paid fire chief position.
After a long discussion with Seyfried and Spencer at the podium, Adams proposed the amendment to add a $100,000 line item to the budget for the fire department. Of that, $40,000 would be allocated for a stipend program and $60,000 would be allocated to the future hire of a full-time paid fire chief.
The board voted unanimously to add the $100,000 line item and again to amend the budget.
“It’s amazing what happens when we all stay at the table and try to talk through things and come to solutions that make sense,” Patrick said.