JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More firefighters and new fire stations could be a reality next year as the managers hope to use savings from pension reform to grow the department.
Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department gave its wish list for next year to the Mayor's Budget Review Committee on Wednesday.
Fire Chief Kurt Wilson said JFRD wants to hire more firefighters because it will cost less than the money currently paid in overtime to cover shifts. He is proposing using the $23.7 million in savings from pension payments to hire more staff.
"Pension reform has saved us," Wilson said. "It is cheaper to hire them than to pay overtime, so now we are trying to balance that out."
Salaries have gone up by $9.6 million due to pay raises negotiated to get union firefighters to agree to pension changes.
There is also funding proposed to open a new fire station already in the works for Cecil Field, plus two additional fire stations -- one near Old Middleburg and Collins roads on the Westside and the other near Baymeadows Way and Interstate 295.
Another rising cost is the increasing number of opioid drug overdoses.
"Our overdoses are skyrocketing. The number of runs are skyrocketing," Wilson said.
Wilson said overdose drugs alone cost more than $155,000 per year, and the ambulance cost runs into the millions.
The JFRD budget is one of many departmental budgets that will be reviewed by the mayor's office over the next few weeks before Mayor Lenny Curry presents his proposed budget to Jacksonville City Council next month.
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