Richmond Hill’s city council passed its $9.95 million general fund budget for the 2021 fiscal year by a unanimous vote, but not without reservations from one council member.
First year councilman Mark Ott said at the council’s Dec. 1 meeting he was concerned the budget doesn’t provide money to staff a temporary fire station near the Belfast Keller interchange, which could be open within weeks.
“We have this new temporary fire station and we’re not going to be able to use it for six months in an area where the interchange is going to open up pretty soon,” Ott said.
The decision not to fund the additional firefighters, which would cost about $90,000,Richmond Hill Fire Chief Brendon Greene said, came after the city didn’t get a federal grant, according to City Manager Chris Lovell.
That “funding shortfall” led the city to discuss various options over the summer before putting the hiring of additional first responders for that station on hold, Lovell told the council.
Richmond Hill Fire Chief Brendon Greene told council the $90,000 would pay for salary and benefits for three first responders at the temporary station for six months.
In their absence, Greene said RHFD worked out an expanded mutual aid agreement with Bryan County Emergency Services to help provide fire protection and ambulance service to the new interchange area.
“We’ve worked with the county on this and they’ve been tremendous partners,” Greene said. “They understand the situation we’re in and they’ve been very open to doing that.”
The city can amend its budget in 2021 to add more firefighters if necessary, Lovell said.
Under the 2021 general fund budget, which went up about $452,000 or 4.77 percent from its 2020 predecessor, the city will spend about $3.56 million on police, it’s most costly expenditure, and $1.35 million on fire.
The city’s streets department is the second biggest budget item at $1.53 million, down about $95,000 from 2020.
The city is cutting spending on its HR department by nearly 30 percent from 2020, or from $210,312 to less than $149,000, and sliced about $82,000 from its general administration budget, a decrease of 7.72 percent.
But the budget is up elsewhere, with spending on council, mayor, municipal court, special projects, parks and planning and zoning all showing increases.
Ott voiced his concern after a lengthy statement from Mayor Russ Carpenter, who said while council members may not always agree on decisions, “that does not mean that there has been poor planning or a misuse of resources.”
Carpenter said police and fire are perhaps the most important services the city provides.
“Fortunately, both our fire chief, Brenden Greene, and our police chief, Mitch Shores, with professional input from their respective staffs, have formulated a budget and operational plan that works, as we have always done. As have all other departments,” Carpenter said.