The City of Bellevue has made little progress in hiring much-needed full-time firefighters since September.
Fire Chief Perry Guido and other city officials are getting antsy.
“I've got a department that can collapse” without full-time firefighters, Guido said.
On Monday, Guido and City Administrator Dan Berlowitz went before the Bellevue commission that oversees firefighter testing and asked it to hurry up.
Bellevue had been served by volunteer firefighters until 2010, when it started paying its firefighters as part-time workers.
Guido has repeatedly said that system is temporary and that there aren't enough part-time firefighters to permanently staff the city.
Now the city wants to hire nine full-time firefighters — soon.
But before that can happen, the Civil Service Commission must set up testing for applicants and provide the Fire Department with a list of applicants.
Those applicants are ranked by their scores on physical and written tests, plus interviews. The city hires from among the applicants scoring the highest.
That testing process has been stalled for a year.
In March, Bellevue pulled out of a joint test with Papillion because of a disagreement between the city and the commission about the applicant list. That matter was settled in August.
In September, the Bellevue City Council allocated money for nine firefighters to start in April 2014. But since then, little progress has been made.
“It seems ridiculous to me that we'd be sitting here for a year,” commission member Jack Charvat said.
The latest snag is a disagreement between the city and the contractor who administers the test, Brittney Ferrin from the firm Morrow and Associates.
Communication between the Fire Department and Ferrin eventually fell apart.
In the meantime, Bellevue has disputed a $15,000 charge from Ferrin.
“There's charges that we do not feel are substantiated,” Berlowitz said.
Neither the city nor the Civil Service Commission signed a contract with Morrow and Associates.
At the Monday meeting, Berlowitz told the commission that he believed Ferrin was not going to complete the next round of testing until the bill was paid.
Ferrin said that was not true, but she added that she would like the commission to make sure the city pays her invoice fully.
“I did work under the assumption that I was going to get paid,” she said.
At the meeting, the commission agreed to administer a less time-consuming physical test, so it could have a list ready in time to hire firefighters in April.
It also agreed that after this year it will solicit bids for contracts rather than just hiring Morrow and Associates.
The commission will meet again in two weeks to decide whether to use the contractor or to ask the city to administer the test. It also will address the billing dispute.