Covington scandal forces fire department to make cuts

COVINGTON, KENTUCKY (FOX19) - Covington's firefighters union is fighting to get staffing and equipment levels back up in the wake of a scandal surrounding the city's finance director's arrest.

Adam Edelen, Kentucky's auditor, announced last week in a report that Bob Due is responsible for stealing $793 thousand from the city.

Covington firefighters say Bob Due's alleged actions put them in a situation where they've had to make cuts.  They say they're below ideal staffing levels, which browns out their busiest water-carrying pumper.

City leaders say Due's accused actions aren't the reason why.

"By the national standards, we are 10 people less than what the national standards call for every day on shift at the Covington Fire Department," said Jimmy Adams, president of Covington Professional Firefighters Local 38.

Typically, the department staffs 27 firefighters at minimum. The union says cuts were made because of Due's alleged faulty reporting. Because of that, they say the city's busiest pumper, Pumper One, has been left idle for nearly every day since September 26, 2011.

"To me, it's never been about the money. It's about the safety, and making sure we have enough people to cover the calls," said Adams.

City leaders say it's not Bob Due's alleged actions that forced cuts.

"Bob Due's embezzlement did not impact firefighter staffing at all. Our budget situation of a couple years ago, we had to get our house in order," said Larry Klein, Covington's city manager.

Cuts were made, including $600 thousand in overtime from the fire department to balance the budget and free up money for things like infrastructure repairs and replacing ambulances and police cars. However, city leaders say Due's alleged theft wouldn't keep Pumper One running every day.

"This action was taken two years ago long before Bob Due's embezzlement was known to the city. If you take the amount of money he embezzled over 12 years, that amounts to $195 per employee, per year. That would not restore $600,000 in overtime even if all that money was put into one department," said Klein.

Fire leaders just want staffing restored for the citizens.

"It's about making sure our guys go home at the end of the day, and making sure we do the best by the citizens of Covington for the taxes they pay," Adams told FOX19.

Union officials say Due dismissed many cost-saving proposals that would have stopped the city from terminating a staffing contract. That contract over the city's right to dictate staffing levels is currently court. Klein says he expects a decision from a judge in a month or two.

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