Fire chief proposes rebuilding old station, not adding new one

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | 7:11 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Fire Chief Bill Markgraf is proposing that tax money allocated for building a new fire station be used instead to revamp an old one.

In a memo to City Manager Bill Watkins earlier this month, Markgraf wrote that the city's budget woes don't allow for hiring additional firefighters to staff the proposed Fire Station No. 10. Instead, he wants to use the money to rebuild Fire Station No. 5 on Ballenger Lane.

"I am fully aware that we told the public that we were going to add two fire stations," Markgraf wrote to Watkins. "However, that was before the bottom fell out of our economy."

Two new fire stations were promised when a quarter-cent sales tax was passed five years ago. Fire Station No. 9 was built in 2009. The 10th station has yet to be built, and the City Council has not determined a location for it, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.

With the city cutting costs in the past couple years, Markgraf said he doesn't see economic conditions picking up enough that a new fire station could be staffed along with the existing stations. He said that would require an increase of $1 million in the Columbia Fire Department's budget.

Markgraf said he believes the tax money would be better used to rebuild Station No. 5, which is 39 years old. Nearby Clark Lane will be widened next year, and Markgraf said the road changes mean the station will be facing the wrong direction.

"The world would not come to an end if it is facing the wrong way, but if we have the opportunity to correct it, we should," Markgraf said.

Watkins was not available for comment, but he has previously opposed deviating from promises to voters about how the city will use the proceeds of taxes they approve, City Communications Director Toni Messina said.

"The city manager has typically felt that what we promise to voters, we should follow through," she said.

Kespohl, whose ward includes Station No. 5, said he doesn't see a problem with  Markgraf's recommendation, though the decision rests with the council as a whole. 

"I see what the chief is trying to do," he said. "But we will have to see whether the public will understand making this change."

The proposal has yet to be formally introduced to the council.

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Amy Vandergriff-Belcher November 17, 2010 | 7:21 p.m.

If a location hasn't been decided on, then I don't see the problem with rebuilding an old station. I think it's a financially sound decision. Especially if we can't afford to staff a new station.

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