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Fire station construction possibly delayed nine years after approval

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OKLAHOMA CITY - A patch of land sits empty on the far southeast edge of Oklahoma City with no signs of a fire station that was scheduled for construction.

Now, with the approval of the city council, the project could be pushed back until brighter economic times.

"Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is and our tax base just not what we expected it to be right now, we're actually being asked to take a cut in our budget," said District Chief Benny Fulkerson. "We want that fire station to be built just as much as you do."

The station in question is #29, which is planned for S.E. 164th between Midwest Blvd. and Douglas Blvd.

The fire department estimates it would improve response times to the area by 1-3 minutes.

"Obviously, we're disappointed that they may put the construction of the new fire station on hold," said Scott VanHorn, the president of the Oklahoma City Firefighters IAFF 157. "While we would like to see the station built, we understand it does take money."

Voters approved its construction in 2007, along with the creation of two other stations (#26 at S.W. 119th and Rockwell and #38 at S.W. 59th and Richland).

Two other stations were set to be refurbished or rebuilt as part of the bond.

Nine years later, Fulkerson said the funding is still there, but the problem is what the bond doesn't pay for.

"So, the bond money pays for the fire stations and the structures themselves, but salaries, benefits come out of a different pot of money," Fulkerson said. "We had the money in place to build the fire station right now, but we didn't have the money in place to staff it, because that would require 21 new positions."

In the face of 2.5 percent budget cuts, Fulkerson said the fire department instead wants to shuffle its construction projects around.

As the work on station 29 sits on hold, the fire department would prefer to instead begin rebuilding station 23, at S.E. 29th and Eastern.

Fulkerson said it's an easier undertaking, because it doesn't involve any new hires.

Fulkerson said there is no timetable for getting all of the work completed, because it's not in the bond language.

But, he said he wants the new fire stations built as soon as possible, even though he said the people in southeast Oklahoma City won't notice any reduction in services.

"You just won't receive that enhanced level of service that you'll get once that station is in place," he said.

The city council would have to approve any delays or reordering.