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Columbus News

Posted on: December 21, 2023

FROM THE MAYOR: Looking back and moving forward (December 2023)

BUlkley

The City Council handled some very important housekeeping business at the Dec. 4th City Council meeting.

 Every year at the first Council meeting in December the City Council elects the Council President to serve for the upcoming year and then approves the appointment of Council members to our two Council Committees. 

Third Ward Councilman Rich Jablonski was unanimously elected to serve as Council President. Rich has been a City Councilman for 13 years and has served on various committees. His years of service will provide valuable insight in helping to lead the City Council as President in the upcoming year. Congratulations Rich!

The City Council also maintains two Council Committees that are staffed by our elected Council members. These appointments were made. Public Finance, Judiciary, and Personnel Committee has Council members Freshour, Jablonski, and Hiemer. And the Public Property, Safety, and Works Committee has Council members Bahr, Lopez, Roth, and Schilling. 

Community safety is always of paramount importance when looking at what is needed and where we must place our priorities. Police staffing and maintaining the proper equipment necessary to effectively serve and protect is a must. The same holds true for our Fire Department. We are constantly evaluating the needs of these two Departments to effectively and efficiently serve and protect.

To this end, much thought has gone into the need to increase our career firefighter staff and bring the Columbus Fire Department up to the level that will allow staffing of both of Fire Stations-Station 1 and Charlie Louis-Station 2. 

Fire Chief Gray and his staff have laid out a systematic timeline that will accomplish this in a relatively quick timeline. This timeline will not only bring on the required career firefighters needed it will do so in a manner to minimize the financial impact to the City of this decision. 

 CHECK OUT THE SPECIAL VIDEO MESSAGE FROM FIRE CHIEF RYAN GRAY ON THE CITY'S YOUTUBE CHANNEL BY CLICKING HERE.


What is required? The hiring of nine more career firefighters. This hiring will allow us, as Chief Gray has laid out, to adequately address the need to respond to calls in a timely fashion but will do so while maintaining the safety of our firefighters. This staffing allows for proper staffing of both stations and takes into consideration having coverage for sickness, vacations, and other issues. 

We cannot have this conversation without first recognizing the Columbus Fire Department has been woefully understaffed for years. A situation that we have decided cannot continue. When you compare our current full-time firefighters to our sister communities it is very obvious. We currently have 21 career firefighters. Compare this to Norfolk-31, Fremont-33, Beatrice-24, Hastings-27, and North Platte-39. The national average of career firefighters to 1000 residents is 1.54-1.81. With our hiring of 9 this will put Columbus at 1.24 career firefighters per 1000 residents based on a population of 24,125. 

Now, let me point out before anyone asks, that the need for nine more career firefighters is a function of our ability to respond in the most efficiently and effectively manner possible at all times. This situation has nothing to do with our Paid Reserve program or the fact that Columbus no longer has a Volunteer Fire Department. The end of our Volunteer program and our transition to a Paid Reserve program has been previously spelled out in detail. And please recognize that moving forward with more career firefighters does not take away the importance of our Paid Reserve to support our department. We will continue to work on strengthening our Paid Reserve program. 

Of course all of this comes with a cost. Personnel, as I have mentioned often, represents the largest expenditure within the City budget. We anticipate the annual cost of these nine hires would be approximately $100,000 each. This includes salaries, benefits, training, and other associated costs. That will represent a $900,000 plus additional annual cost to our budget. 

There are no easy answers to a $900,000 increase in expenses. But the Council was unanimous in its desire to address the hiring of these additional firefighters as quickly as possible. The decision was made to move forward with the timeline that Chief Gray laid out. This essentially has us hiring the 9 firefighters by August 2024. To accommodate this, the City will dip into its reserves funds. We are only willing to do this because the Council made a corresponding commitment to fund NO NEW PROJECTS OR EMPLOYEES until the reserve funds are restored to their proper level. And the added General Fund expense created by these new employees is covered by new General Fund revenue. 

The City Council feels confident that we can manage the fiscal impact of the decision we have made. We must make sure the public is confident that effective and efficient response times are received when the needs arise and as calls come into 911. And our citizens must feel that we have done this while still maintaining the array of other city services that all have come to expect.

The Columbus Children's Museum opened its doors for an event on Dec. 15th. The full opening will be late December/early January. This highly anticipated opening is the final part of our new Columbus Community Building. The Columbus Children’s Museum is a nonprofit organization that leases their space from the City. They are not a part of the City and are not operated under the management of the City. They have their own Board and management staff. And they operate from their own funding and not City tax dollars. We are extremely excited about the opening of the museum and are looking forward to the positive impact it will have on Columbus and the surrounding area. Congratulations on their opening and good luck!

As most of you have seen the 23rd Street construction is basically done for this year. There may still be some minor inconveniences as they finish up some odds and ends. And if you have been by the Community Building hopefully you noticed the parking lot to the east is complete and the landscaping is done. This parking lot gives us 65 parking stalls, three which are ADA compliant, and allow direct access to the Community Building without having to cross the 14th Street. 

You will notice that landscaping has been completed to add that finishing touch. Still to come is an all-inclusive playground that Park and Rec has worked on to include some really neat and unique items. We will finish this up in the spring.

The Ward 1 City Council position is still open but we are currently conducting interviews with those individuals who applied. I was happy with the number of the applicants and their desire to serve Columbus. I hope to have a decision made before the new year. 

Since I am referencing the City Council, this would be the appropriate place for me to announce that I have decide to run for another term as your Mayor. I am so proud of all the things that Columbus has accomplished in the past seven years. And more importantly, I am excited about all of things that we are working on and hoping to bring forward in the upcoming years. We have a great City Council working hand in hand with an awesome Staff. My desire is to continue leading that group for another four years. And continue to make Columbus a great place. 

Finally, as we approach Christmas, I hope everyone can find an opportunity to spend some quality time with family and friends. And remember that as our community continues to grow this growth is spurred by new and diverse citizens. We must open up and be accepting of others-even those that might be different than us. Give thanks for what you have. Here in Columbus we are truly blessed. 

And always remember-Jesus is the reason for the season!

Something Good Columbus

Jim Bulkley-Mayor

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