Mayor: Firefighters’ pay adequate

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Phil Davis said he owes his life to the paramedics that came to his aid two weeks ago. Paramedics found him unconscious at his Clovis home within two minutes of his wife calling for help, he said.

He shared his story Thursday at the Clovis City Commission meeting in support of Clovis Fire Department employees petitioning higher wages.

“I’m a tightwad, people say I’m so tight I squeak when I walk, but I don’t mind even paying more taxes if that’s what it takes to get the money that’s deserved to our fireman, our police and the paramedics,” he said.

Firefighter Joel Gershon presented the Commission with a petition signed by 1,326 Clovis residents asking to place a new compensation plan for Clovis firefighters and paramedics on a Commission meeting agenda.

Mayor David Lansford said he did not agree that salaries of city employees were lacking.

“But if it’s going to be an issue that’s going to continue to crop up year in and year out as it has for the last 14 years, this city is going to have to find means and methods to deal with compensation issues,” he said.

Commissioner Isidro Garcia said the salaries of firefighters and policemen is more than adequate for the cost of living in the city.

“I’d say that over 50 percent of the people in Clovis make a lot less than they make,” he said.

Commissioners could not act on the item because it wasn’t on the agenda and a resolution passed in 1988 prevents an item the Commission already taken action on to be placed on the agenda again for six months.

Fire Chief Ray Westerman presented Commissioners a compensation plan during a Sept. 6 meeting that would use the salaries of five vacant firefighter positions to increase the salaries of about 50 mid-level fire department employees.

Gershon, who spoke on behalf of the Clovis Fire Fighters Association and about 20 firefighters at the meeting, challenged commissioners to create a compensation plan for all city employees.

“In the fire department we have experienced a tremendous turnover rate in the past few years coupled with the retirement of valued experienced personnel,” he said. “That experience lost will take years of continued service to regain.”

City landfill worker Leo Garcia asked commissioners to keep other city departments in mind if they consider a new compensation plan for firefighters.

“I believe everybody in the city has a very important job: the police, fire department, landfill workers, street sweepers,” he said. “If anybody gets a raise or something like that, I would wish that everybody would get a raise in the whole city.”

Paramedic Matt Wood told the Commission he saw possible closures of fire stations to consolidate the number of experienced personnel if a compensation plan is not approved.

“If you give me six guys that don’t know how to do the job it doesn’t do me any benefit at all,” he said. “I would just as soon have one or two guys that know how to do the job that I can depend on,” he said.

In other business at Thursday’s Clovis City Commission meeting:

Commissioners approved the final plan for a $16.3 million effluent reuse pipeline project, which will save the city 670 million gallons of water a year, according to engineer Curtis McHaley.

The city would use the treated water to irrigate city landscapes, McHaley said.

Commissioners also authorized negotiations for the sale of effluent water to industries that could use it for manufacturing.

City Manager Joe Thomas said money earmarked for watering city property will go to construction of the project.

“In effect, what that does is currently it’s just transferring the money we’re paying to buy the water now, back into the city-funded structure,” he said.

Thomas also said sales of water to industries will also go toward building the pipeline.

Thomas says as the project planning progresses the city can negotiate with other entities to purchase the water, offsetting the cost further.

Mayor Pro-Tem and Water Policy Advisory Board Chairman Randall Crowder said no companies have been contacted yet.

He said a part of the pipeline will be constructed near the Clovis Industrial Park, which would give the industries there, such as the ethanol and biodiesel plant, access to effluent water.

Crowder said federal legislators have already given about $1 million to the project.

Commissioners approved White Hat Energy for funding through the local economic development act. The New Jersey company plans to build a biomass plant in Clovis that will convert cow manure from dairies into natural gas.