Jefferson County’s Fire District #1 and Emergency Medical Services should consolidate to improve the effectiveness emergency response, according to a draft consultant report prepared for the county.
The chiefs of both agencies have questions about the report’s data and assumptions. But if the study holds up, they should not stand in the way of consolidation. They should back it.
First of all, the county should put the draft report up on its website. If it’s there somewhere, it’s sure not easy to find. We had to make a public records request to get it. We know it’s just a draft report, but the public paid for this report and people in Jefferson County need to understand the issue. It’s also important for the public to see the draft report to see how it is modified for the final version. Will it be tweaked so it no longer suggests that the districts consolidate?
One thing that is clear from the report is both the fire district and EMS face money issues. For instance, the fire district’s revenue is not projected to meet its expected future needs. It has a property tax rate of $1.1847 per $1,000 of assessed value or $118.47 for a property assessed at $100,000. It also collects assorted fees. The report calculated the fire district needs to ask voters for a levy of an additional $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Another challenge the departments face is improving response times. The time needed to process a call once it comes in to dispatch is above the national standard. There is also the issue of turnout time — the time from when a station receives a call to when the wheels are rolling. A national benchmark is a minute. Both agencies need to try to meet that more often.
Some resistance should be expected to consolidation. People will likely lose their jobs. The total staffing of a consolidated department may go from about 37 now to 28, as management ranks are thinned. That may reduce some personnel expenses. It’s not clear from the report if that would mean an overall reduction in costs from a consolidated district. Remember that the fire district is already projected to need more revenue to be sustainable over the long run.
Jefferson County deserves high quality fire and emergency medical service. A potential consolidation should not turn into a turf war, but an example of how the county’s leaders can work together to improve public safety.