Council committee approves filling fire department positions

LA CROSSE, Wis. — With La Crosse Mayor Matt Harter and the La Crosse Fire Department still fighting over overtime
costs, a La Crosse Common Council committee votes to fill six vacant fire department positions.

The Committee of the Whole voted 13-1 Tuesday night in favor of filling the positions. A final vote by the full
Common Council is expected Thursday night.

The positions have been vacant for a while and are open mainly because of retirements within the fire
department.

Even though the positions have already been approved and budgeted for, Mayor Harter has refused to fill them to try
to save the city money.

That has upset fire officials, some council members and residents.

About a dozen people attended the committee meeting Tuesday night to encourage the positions be filled as soon as
possible.

They say Mayor Harter’s decision to leave them open has jeopardized public safety.

This is on top of Mayor Harter’s recent directive to the fire department requiring all overtime requests to be
approved by him personally. Harter also cut the number of firefighters on duty and ordered two rescue trucks and a
ladder truck not to be used.

Fire officials say these vacancies should have never happened in the first place.

“That’s barely a band-aid at this point because these positions will not be filled overnight,” says Jeff Murphy,
president of firefighters union, Local 127. “It’s likely that if the mayor continues with the no-overtime policy, it
could be months before we have our apparatuses staffed to the way we have in the past.”

Mayor Harter says he has targeted the fire department because of excessive overtime costs.

The department has used about 80% of its overtime budget through the first few months of the year.

Harter says he closely reviewed fire operations before making any decisions.

“I do not feel these positions that are in front of the Common Council to be filled, need to be filled. I feel these
positions are excessive,” Harter said Tuesday night.

Also Thursday, the city Executive Committee decided to move forward with plans for a study that will take a closer
look at the fire department’s management and operations.

If approved by the common council, that study will be done with an independent third-party firm.