Leaders of nearly every city in Iowa are struggling with tight budgets. Some cities looking for extra funds may follow the lead of Waterloo. The Waterloo City Council last week voted to create a new position, director of safety services, to oversee the administration of both the police and fire departments. Mayor Buck Clark, who pitched the plan, claims the move will save the city more than $650,000 over five years.
“The director of safety services is not going to be out putting out fires, nor is he going to be out arresting bad people. The uniformed officers who do that will continue to do that. This is an administrative position only,” Clark said. “I put a lot of thought into it, did a lot of research and came up with our version.”
The plan in Waterloo involves eliminating the position of fire chief and giving police chief Dan Trelka the additional title of director of safety services. Trelka will receive a boost in pay, but eliminating the fire chief position will save the city roughly $130,000 in salary.
Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, says the plan wouldn’t work for most communities. “This is going to work best in a larger community where a significant part of the duties of a chief of police or fire chief are going to be management and administration. Then, they can rely upon captains or lieutenants to actually go out and do the service related to law enforcement and fire,” Kemp said.
He believes city councils in some of Iowa’s larger cities will be watching how things play out in Waterloo. “Particularly in large cities, a cost driver is public safety in general. So, obviously, department heads command higher salaries,” Kemp said.
“So I think it’s certainly attractive to a city if they can find one individual who can run both departments.” Buck Clark, the Waterloo mayor, calls his city’s budget challenges “enormous.” Clark said the alternative to his plan would involve raising fees or taxes.