After taking care of some issues with popcorn in his role as district executive for the Boy Scouts of America, Statesboro City Councilman Will Britt was Thursday’s guest on the “Mornings unPHILtered” show. Britt discussed the restructuring announced last week of the city’s police and fire departments.
Britt addressed the termination of Police Chief Stan York and Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield, along with several other top administrators, by City Manager Shane Haynes. Statesboro Police Capt. Wendell Turner was appointed as the new Statesboro public safety director and will oversee both departments.
Britt told host Phil Boyum that when the city budget came under review in April, it was discovered the budget deficit was larger than expected – $425,000. Haynes first proposed a tax millage increase to make up the shortfall.
After council members said a millage hike was off the table, Haynes came back with several other proposals, including combining the fire and police departments under one director. Britt said council members were told it would eliminate positions in the fire and police departments.
Britt said restructuring was in progress for a while in other city departments, and carrying it over to public safety seemed natural. Britt said both the fire and police department commanders have ensured council members that no loss of service will result because of the restructuring.
Britt said the major goal across the council was to reduce the budget and not alter any services being provided to city residents, as has happened in many cities across the nation.
Asked by Boyum if the changes had to do with differences over managerial style, Britt said the council had no problems with the job performance of York or Merrifield, whatsoever.
Saving some $500,000 in a city budget the size of Statesboro's is not an easy thing, Britt said. It was necessary to eliminate some of the highest-paid positions that existed in the city budget in order to significantly reduce the budget. Britt went on to say that if the city was not in the financial state it is, neither York nor Merrifield would have been let go.
One of the best aspects of the restructuring, Britt said, is that it will enhance communication between the two formerly-separate departments. Though Turner’s background is solely in law enforcement, Britt said he is very committed to the fire department, and he said he wants to become certified as a firefighter.
Britt said the city council has asked Haynes to examine other ideas to further reduce the public safety budget. Britt said the new Police Department building is not for sale, but since it is fully paid for, it could be used as collateral in a bond issue to raise cash. But no decision has been made on if the city would do that.
Britt was asked by a caller about the purchase of the building next to City Hall by Statesboro's Downtown Development Authority, Britt said the city of Statesboro didn't spend a dime on the building, but acted as a guarantor for the purchase by the Development Authority.
A question emailed to Boyum about the settlement the city paid out after the firing of former city clerk Judy McCorkle was answered, in part, by Boyum. He said the situation was so confused that it was decided to avoid a long-drawn-out court battle with city employees testifying for both sides that a financial settlement was in the best interests of the city.
“Mornings unPHILtered” airs live Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on statesboroherald.com and also simulcast on WWNS-AM 1240 on the radio. You also can listen anytime at BoroLive.com on statesboroherald.com