Due to budget restraints, the Mills Town Council decided this week to cut the town’s fire department down to administration only, resulting in the loss of nine firefighting jobs.
“It’s not something that any of us want,” Mills Mayor Seth Coleman said Friday. “It’s a horrible decision to have to make or even be contemplating.”
The town will contract with outside agencies for its fire and emergency medical services as of July. Coleman said the town intends to work with entities in Natrona County, but declined to name which ones. The mayor did say that Mills does not plan to use Casper’s services.
Coleman said the department currently has nine firefighters who will be affected by the change.
“I’m working to set my next meeting with them,” he said, adding that he understood this was “not great” for those who will be losing their jobs.
The department had been a volunteer unit until a little more than a decade ago, the press release said, when it became a mix of full-time and volunteer workers. In 2014, it eliminated the volunteer component.
Two former Mills firefighters, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, told the Star-Tribune in August that the department had a strained relationship with the town’s leaders.
“The Town Council doesn’t understand why they have to pay [firefighters] since the fire station used to be all volunteers,” said one former employee. “They don’t seem to understand that the call volume has increased dramatically.”
This has led some employees to look for work elsewhere because they’re concerned paid positions will be eventually be eliminated, he explained.
At the time, Coleman said there were no plans to eliminate paid positions at the fire department.
The mayor said Friday that the town’s leaders didn’t intend to cut positions in August. But financial difficulties have now made it necessary.
“We’ve tried to find ways to reduce the budget strain,” he said. “It just hasn’t panned out the way that we hoped it would.”
The town had hoped its ambulance service would provide a revenue stream, as the department brought in several hundred thousand dollars annually from a contract with a local medical facility, according to a written statement from the town. That contract dissolved soon after it began, the town said, and Mills lost thousands of dollars each year on uncollected service fees. A “large portion” of Mills’ one-cent tax revenue has had to go toward the department, the announcement said, limiting the money available for infrastructure.
“Across the United States, especially in Wyoming, it is uncommon for a town the size of Mills to have a full-time fire department,” the statement said.
According to the announcement, the town has tried alternate means of funding the department with no success.
The remaining administrative staff will still do building and occupancy inspections, the statement said, as well as emergency management planning.
“The Town Council is proud of the department and the professional service they have provided, and regrets having to make this tough financial decision,” the release said. “However, the Mills Town Council is determined to spend the tax payers’ money in Mills in an efficient and responsible way.”