Pro and Con: Two takes on the Five Cities Fire Authority benefit assessment
Our firefighters are wonderful members of our community. They are your next-door neighbors, fellow church members, parents of your children’s friends and those wonderful men and women rushing to your aid in your time of need.
This ballot measure is not about them. It is also not about the decision to consolidate the various fire departments, which will prove to be a benefit to the community.
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This ballot measure is about government excess, ability to pay and government deception. All levels of government are suffering from excessive employee compensation, both salaries and benefits. As total employee costs rise, all other needs fall by the wayside. Capital improvements, capital replacement, street repair, recreation and all other community needs suffer. Whether the money comes from within our cities’ budgets or from a new property assessment, it still comes from our community.
During the recent recession, at the same time all of our cities were dramatically cutting back on all expenses and instituting furlough days, etc., the Fire Authority was increasing salaries to bring parity to the different positions in their new organization.
Then it applied for a federal grant and hired six new employees, even though most leaders never use onetime money to fund permanent employees. Now it seeks this additional $1 million to pay for these six new employees and for a capital replacement fund the Fire Authority always knew would be needed.
The deception is the fact that if it knew it needed $1 million more to fund the original Fire Authority, it never would have been deemed feasible.
The Five Cities Fire Authority was formed almost four years ago. Now, proponents of the fee tell us about “all of the money they have saved,” but do not show us where or how that was determined. The existing fire stations are much nicer and more modern than our city halls, our fire apparatus is in excellent condition, our fire personnel are well paid. We do take care of our fire department. Now they need to learn to live within their means, just like every other department.
The argument about some national standard for number of firefighters needed in an emergency without ability to pay consideration is irresponsible. We all have seen two and sometimes three fire trucks responding to medical calls. Why? You cannot get an answer to how many actual fire calls per month or per year. A fire call should be described as when you need a full complement of firefighters and physically put out a fire. Ever marvel at the huge ladder truck running to a “medical call”?
The majority of calls are ambulance calls. Maybe one more ambulance vehicle is what we really need. Or maybe fire equipment should not be dispatched to nonfire calls. Maybe a fee for repeat medical calls over some basic number should be required. Maybe substantial funding from some medical service component could be secured because of our high level of assistance at all medical calls. Maybe a pay-per-call volunteer group could further complement the fulltime fire personnel. I am sure there are other ideas on how to reduce costs.
What we now have is a department that went out on its own, supposedly to save money, and now it cannot make it on the current income.
If we do not require government to return to reality now, when do we?
Dave Ekbom is a Grover Beach resident and former Grover Beach City Council member.