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Wednesday, May 16, 2018 1:00 am

Council moves to alter reimbursing fire, police for OT

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne City Council approved changes Tuesday to how police and firefighters are reimbursed for overtime accrued during festivals. 

The ordinance to be amended mostly applies to the annual Three Rivers Festival, which runs nine days in July, police Deputy Chief Marty Bender told the council. The current ordinance, Bender said, caps the amount police can charge the organizers of a festival at 25 percent of police overtime incurred after the first 100 hours of overtime. Additionally, the police department can only collect total overtime billed for the same festival the year before, plus 10 percent. 

The amendment approved Tuesday restructures the ordinance “so we can gain some of our overtime expenses back,” Bender said. The police department has had to increase security at outdoor events in recent years to be prepared for acts of violence or possible terrorist attacks, he said.  

The changes will go into effect in January.

From 2015 to 2017, the department's festival expenses jumped from $50,000 to $72,000, Bender said. 

“We're not out to try to stop the festivals, they provide a valuable venue for people and the quality of life in this community,” Bender said. “But we also need to realize that some of the expense we need to get back.” 

The amendments were approved unanimously in a preliminary vote. The votes rarely change on final readings.

On the fire department side, the amendment approved Tuesday eliminates language that limits services to festivals lasting more than one day, Chief Eric Lahey said. The reason for that change, Lahey said, is that he anticipates a rise in single-day festivals in coming years, especially along the riverfront. 

“That's where our expense comes, when we need to provide water rescue teams and boats on the river, spotters on bridges for those one-day water festivals,” Lahey said. 

The City Council also approved three ordinance amendments to how the fire department charges for services. One of the changes allows the fire department to charge agencies that are part of the city for special fire department services. One such example, Lahey said, is the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department's Summer Concert Series, where the fire department is routinely asked to provide medical support.

“There is a cost to that, it is time and a half to have a firefighter come in and provide those services,” Lahey said. “They're willing to pay, we just want to make sure we have a mechanism in place to do that.” 

Another change removes language establishing a fee for initial safety inspections at local businesses. Lahey said that fee was inadvertently added to the ordinance more than four years ago and was recently discovered when the fire department explored changing the re-inspection fee charged to business owners if problems found during the first inspection are not rectified. 

The re-inspection fee is $150, Lahey said.

The final ordinance approved Tuesday allows the Fort Wayne fire chief to implement a fire watch at a local business in the event that a fire protection system is taken offline for any reason. 

“Rather than evacuating the building, which is the other option, I would order a fire watch and I would stage a fire code inspector on scene to make sure that nothing is being violated and everything is being done appropriately,” Lahey said. 

dgong@jg.net