|Is there a way to more intelligently budget for the fire service in Escambia County? Answer--yes...|
It is disappointing when a subject of universal community importance and concern becomes weaponized against those of us that make policy and set budgets using limited resources.
Unfortunately this happens and it happens frequently in politics at the local level.
When I was a school board member, when negotiations were not going the way the teacher's union wanted them to go, our meetings would become packed with union members wearing red shirts. We would have dozens of speakers warning of the dire consequences of not adequately funding education. Some speakers would become quite animated and aggressive. It was ugly. We got through these events, though. We compromised, and education in Escambia County continued. But at no time did we ever NOT value teachers and education--we just had to make tough budget decisions.
Then in my first year as a county commissioner, the BCC was ridiculed and attacked viciously and unprofessionally in commercials, online, and on billboards when we did not immediately acquiesce to unrealistic and unsustainable salary increase demands from the Sheriff's department. We went back and forth, did mediation, and eventually we reached a compromise agreement and a 4-year deal. We got the Law Enforcement Trust process fixed and we increased salaries--- But no matter what anyone said about us, no matter who said the board didn't respect and value law enforcement--those statements were always lies and that rhetoric was always pure propaganda--none of it was ever true. (Unfortunately some very gullible folks actually believed this. Sadly, some still do. But it wasn't true--isn't now and it never was.)
So now we come to 2019 and the fire department budget is in the red. Union negotiations are going on and some members of the career firefighter ranks are pushing us for more resources. Some are getting aggressive online and at the dais.
Are there legitimate concerns about fire service equipment--yes? And yes, the MSBU is not fully funding the budget of the fire service.
So now what?
Some folks would just love us to raise tax rates on command. They say "we need the money, now raise taxes!"
But I'm never going to vote to raise the year over year tax rate on Escambia county property owners if there are other viable solutions to budget issues. I've never voted to increase rates in 12 years in public office--and I'm not starting now. We have to live within our budgets just like households and small businesses do. And I do believe there are viable options available apart from raising year-over-year tax rates.
FIXING THE ISSUES WITH THE VOLUNTEERS
As I said in Part I of this series, we need to take some steps to help our yearly fire service fund increases become more predictable and larger--I went through some steps to do this in this earlier post.http://jeffbergoshblog.blogspot.com/2019/01/fixing-fire-service-budgeting-in.html
But now I want to take it a step further and mention some additional measures that I feel need to be taken to make the agency more efficient going forward.
--First, we have to cut the bureaucratic red tape that is currently creating an unnecessary blockage in the training pipeline (e.g. right now there is a backlog of at least 15 additional volunteer firefighters that only need a live-burn certification to be fully qualified to run calls. I'm told some of these volunteers have been waiting for 5 months for this certification. Some have gone or are going to neighboring counties for this training because they cannot get through the bureaucracy here in Escambia--which if true is unacceptable. One knowledgeable individual with whom I spoke had a stark assessment of the reason for the hold up "They can't afford to pay the stipends if all the
volunteers get certified and qualify for the stipend--it would come out of the same pot that funds the career firefighters!") Economics 101: if you want to create more demand for career firefighters, this can easily be done by reducing the supply of trained volunteers or by marginalizing the volunteers...This issue needs to get fixed and fixed ASAP.
--We must find a way to better integrate and utilize the volunteers we do have (e.g. allowing them to run calls instead of not allowing them to work side by side with career firefighters even though both volunteer and career firefighters have the same certifications) Again--having trained volunteers willing to work in our community is the most economical and practical way to run this fire service if we have willing and able volunteers! I support the volunteers AND the career firefighters.
--At volunteer stations (Like Station 2 in Beulah) that are getting dinged for alleged response time issues and deficiencies--how about stationing an EMS unit to take some of the sick calls??--instead of forcing this station to run sick calls with the fire engine where an injured patient cannot be even be transported until an EMS unit arrives? This needs to be explored.
DEBUNKING THE RHETORIC AND SPIN
In addition to implementing some common sense solutions like the ones in this post and in my previous post--we have to debunk the myths that are being put forth as truths by folks that ought to know better--because there is some disinformation being presented as fact.
Folks that ought to know better are now online on some social media chat sites assailing the BCC for the acquisition of property for a new library in District 1. (District 1 is the only BCC district that does not have a public library) Firefighters who hold positions of leadership within their union are saying the library should not be funded because "critical fire infrastructure is needed first." But here is the problem with propaganda like that. We have a library MSTU that fully funded the District 1 library purchase on Mobile Hwy, and this funding source will also pay for the Design of this new facility. These library MSTU funds CANNOT, HOWEVER be used for the fire service--so this line of attack is illegitimate and ill-informed. It's certainly a disappointment to see someone online trashing the idea of a new library while overtly pushing the fiction that somehow the funds could have been used for fire service needs. Here is a newsflash: These are restricted funds, so the former HR guy and the union guy ought to know this. If they didn't before, hopefully someone will tell them so they will know now.
So yes there is a lot of fiction being pushed right now, and that is disappointing. But once we get the spin room under control, once we implement some commonsense solutions for the emergency services division--I believe wholeheartedly that we can fix some issues and make the department more efficient without raising taxes.
So this is the direction I will continue to go....