I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fixing the Fire Service Budgeting in Escambia County

Is there a way to more intelligently budget for the fire service in Escambia County?  Answer--yes...

The budgeting for fire service in Escambia County is being discussed this week.

I met with the Fire Chief and Director of the Emergency Services yesterday afternoon.

Currently, we fund fire services with an MSBU that every dwelling in the county pays, it is $125 per unit in the unincorporated areas of the county.  And this generates the money necessary to pay the 300+  county firefighters (160 are volunteers) and pay expenses associated with the department's operations.

But this amount of money generated is not keeping up with costs.  So here is where the rubber meets the road in answering the following question:

How do we adequately fund this service while not simply raising tax rates on property owners?

I believe the answer requires a few initial steps and some creativity--but I believe we can do it.  Here's how:

1-----Have the fire service (and EMS) only utilize Local Option Sales Taxes going forward for equipment purchases (equipment that qualifies under the LOST referendum) to free up

 general revenue dollars to help with rising labor and other costs.

 ------Develop a sharing formula for EMS-ECFR where the EMS’s yearly surplus dollars are shared with ECFR based upon a formula that bolsters ECFR. (25%, 50% or ?)

 ------Change the county-wide MSBU to an MSTU of .9969 mills (which will generate the same level of revenue this year that the MSBU would have generated) and with this change the amount generated will increase modestly with the increasing value of the tax roll going forward—without necessitating tax rate increases year over year.

As we get closer and closer to starting the budget for next year, I have a feeling we will be discussing the fire service budget and steps we can take to shore this budget up going forward.  I look forward to these conversations!


Anonymous said...

The Fire FEE added on to very poor people's property tax was LAZY and not fair, voted for in the recent past. The North end D5 got stuck with it and they have volunteer firefighters. The increases need to be run ad valorem -- it is more equitable. The LAZY fire FEE approved a few years ago pushed by Underhill was unfair!!
I admit I don't understand all this and appreciate that you are always looking for solutions in the county
Raise the TDT for some things and I really think the fee simple may be an easy fix, or at least make the PB lease fees equitable.

Some people's fire tax bill EXCEEDS the property tax bill and they do not benefit from it.

Look up the Sawmill property, One lumber road in Century and see the tax assessment building up-- Past Fire Fees included --past property taxes making the property more worthless via liens on it.

It is owned by a defunct LLC mortgaged by a defunct LLC and the County D5 knows about it, has legal standing, let's it sit there gathering fines and torn up and ready to come apart in a wind in a neighborhood.

Fire FEE's-- yes FEE --also mounting at an astronomical pace and even the tax appraiser hasn't done his job.

sick of lazy

Anonymous said...

- LOST already funds those items you speak of and has for several years prior to your election; you cannot use LOST for salaries
- EMS doesn't collect tax revenue like ECFR other than LOST; they are funded thru a billing process
- MSTU has an ebb and flow depending on property values; MSBU is at least a steady income of revenue or shall I say more "predictable" flow
- Are you sure you want to explore career personnel in your district Mr. Bergosh? You have made some comments that could be taken as negative about career personnel.

This has been an ongoing problem for years. The BOCC gets a little heat and they bang the gavel and funding appears yet with no plan for the future. This cannot be handled on an "as needed basis", it must be planned on for at least 5 years in the future. Navy Fed has multi-million dollar buildings in your district and you want to turn OLF 8 into a "small town". You must consider the needs of the future not only for public safety but infrastructure as well but that's another blog. Do you think these multi-million dollar companies are going to give Escambia Co. a second look if their insurance rates will be effected or their buildings are not protected by a FD that is lacking?

Have you explained to property owner's how a FD effects their insurance rates. Volunteer (actually "paid" w/ stipend) versus a career fully staffed around the clock fire station? Do they know the benefits of a hydrant near their property(ies)? Do they know the FD can provide ALS care (like an ambulance but unable to transport) Do they understand what that can do for their quality of life? Do they know the capabilities of the FD as far as special rescue, hazmat, water rescue, etc that their FD provides? Do they know their FD has been working to improve their ISO rating for the citizens?

Education is key. The property owners deserve to know. The citizens deserve to know. The FD can do a better job of "marketing" but they are busy training and saving lives and property. Speaking of lives, did you know that the FD pulled three Escambia citizens out of burning homes as recently as the last 6 mos. 2 survived and one succumbed to his injuries that were incurred prior too FD arrival. Proclamations are handed out left and right for birthdays, retirements or whatever. Have you or any member of the BOCC even acknowledged these achievements?

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous 11:39-I agree it was lazy and that is why an MSTU would be better if we can switch it. Also, in order to use TDT funds for public safety--the legislation would need to change in Tallahassee in order to allow us to do this. Walton, Okaloosa, and Bay County have this ability due to a law change that was made by Matt Gaetz and Brad Drake. We looked at this early last year and there was no appetite by the board to push for this locally, and the hotel owners pushed back hard.

Anonymous 10:28--your view is compartmentalized and self-interested (not in a pejorative way--you simply sound as if you are ONLY looking at the fire service, I am looking at the big picture), whereas I am looking at the broad view and at all departments. You also sound extremely pessimistic and condescending. I am an optimistic problem solver. That's #1. Number two is this: I have been dealing with the budgeting of LOST funds for going on 13 years, as we made very good use of these funds during my tenure as a 10-year school board member--and of course I know these funds cannot be used for salaries and operating expenses. But these funds can and should be used for the purchase of ambulances and for the last several years the BCC has utilized EMS reserves to purchase ambulances at $250K a pop. This was not wise budgeting--as these vehicles could have been purchased with LOST funds and the EMS reserves could have been used to help with ECFR's budget--which would have been doable. Thus my initiative that we tie the budgeting of EMS and ECFR together, as EMS is self-funding (enterprise fund) and generates more revenue than it expends--while the fire service utilizes more revenue than the MSBU generates. Going to an MSTU for ECFR will allow us to grow this fund quicker than sticking with the MSBU--and importantly--this will add a level of equity to the cost burdens put on home owners (i.e. should a 2-bedroom, 1 bath 800 SF cinder block home in a poor part of the county pay the same as the 6-bedroom, 4 bath McMansion in Perdido?) Answer: I don't think so. So let's look at this, let's look at tying EMS and ECFR at the hip since your functions overlap in many respects. Let's go to the MSTU and be intelligent with all purchasing and not pay one dime in general fund dollars or reserve fund dollars for equipment that can be purchased with LOST funds. Let's also insure we are maintaining and nurturing the volunteers that we have (e.g. not treat them like 4th class citizens by telling them they cannot ride on the truck with career firefighters and sending them out only for "sick calls" while telling them to stay in the station when a structure fire call comes in) They have the same training and certifications--and they save us money. Let's look at these things and if we do this we will increase revenue for ECFR intelligently.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous 10:28--A couple of additional points. We have acknowledged, publicly, the ECFR on numerous occasions during our meetings, particularly during our commissioner's forum and also via several proclamations. We respect and support all the first responders. You don't know this, but I am also pushing to get a modernized fire station in Beulah to service the NFCU campus and whatever is developed on OLF 8. We have purchased Station 2 and the property and we're looking to get an adjacent parcel so we can dramatically upgrade and update that facility. Those efforts happen behind the scenes but they take time. It's coming though. The other points you make are all good ones, and I think we should all do more to educate the public about everything that goes into the things ECFR does. Let's make it a point to do more of that in 2019.

Dewey Barnes said...

I have no issues with a higher property tax. and if there are those that can not pay a higher tax then let us do a way to distribute it out fairly through out the county. If the county has all career stations then we need to allow the vollies to get first pick to become career firefighters as well. if we are still going to have volunteer stations around the county then they need to be staffed correctly as well. I for one am waiting for a real solution to this funding problem. running g to an MSBU every couple of years is ridiculous. The revenue that comes from ECFR is nil. They produce no revenue like ECSO or ECEMS. Fire departments make no money for the county or themselves. Grants afforded are mostly for equipment and training. The pay received for firefighters is appalling. I know most even pay for better gear than provided by the county as well, I did when I was career. For men and women who put their lives on the line they deserve better pay, and we as county residents should pay up and the BOCC needs to step up and do what needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

maybe it’s time to revamp the whole system, because it’s not working. The combination system is not working. Can’t tell you how many volunteers left after career staffing came into these stations... now look at us struggling to keep volunteers/retain them and recruit them including career staffing. It’s true volunteers are not used anymore on calls and it’s apart of the reason why we can’t keep them. Why train if you can’t run the call? Volunteers are being used to make everything look good when in fact it’s crumbling. The whole system is broken.

we obviously have bigger problems then just funding career positions, the whole system hasn’t been updated since 2008 — 12 years ago. As a volunteer, I’m asking for someone to fight for a better system and not to lay money on table unless something changes for both sides. Time for a change before we lose both sides.