Sustainable is the Last Thing This Is

A Chronicle article last week talks about all the new building, equipment and personnel the City of DeKalb is investing into its fire department.

I read the article after just having skimmed through the city’s check register for August. The police department spent, among other things, $125,000+ on software and $2600 on the new dog, including $79.95 for a water bowl. They seem to be having fun.

Before that, I read the memo about how the HVAC system in the Municipal Building is about ready to blow for good, and that the price tag for repairs/renovations/remodeling there will require $7.5 million but they only have about $3.3 million available in TIF funds, down from the originally expected on-hand funding of $4.5 million. This bad news is due to the continually lagging EAV within the city limits.

Back to the article:

The department also has the go-ahead from the city to increase its staffing levels by five firefighters – from 52 to 57 – which would almost bring it to pre-recession levels. In 2008, the department employed 60 firefighters, but the numbers dwindled to 51 in 2012 – and overtime went way up.

Firefighters racked up 11,000 hours of overtime in 2012 when responses reached an all-time high of 8,521 – up from 7,675 in 2011.

“I’m pleased that we have been able to reinstate some positions, doing some additional hires to increase our ranks as well as some equipment acquisitions,” DeKalb Mayor John Rey said. “That ensures that we’re able to provide valuable services to our community in a sustainable way.”

Somebody should explain why a city that dropped from 47,000 people (2007) to 44,000 people (2010) is generating more calls. I believe this was covered when our financial consultants, Executive Partners, Inc. (EPI) came to town last spring. During the April workshop meeting between EPI and the council, the fire chief explained that residents are more frequently phoning for ambulances for basic (non-emergency) services such as taking blood pressures. Called “treat, no transfer,” this type of visit costs us $350,000 in lost revenues each year but is something we can address without adding personnel.

Not only that, but we hired new FD personnel in 2012 and they get overtime pay for training, so not all that 11,000 hours of o.t. is due to calls.

Do they also get o.t. for all these new life safety inspections they are doing? I think so. At any rate, I again wish the Chronicle would dig a little deeper.

And I can’t allow Mayor Rey’s remark go by without rebuttal. As far as I’m concerned, our mayor has now definitely become a party to the effort to erase EPI’s presence this year. EPI said our operations are NOT sustainable, and that we’d hit budget trouble within five years if we didn’t make drastic changes. Please, never forget that.