September 26, 2009 at 9:16 pm #81518
Some months ago there was a Discussion somewhere on govloop about how local governments were looking at moving toward a more efficient model of delivering services. I am unable to find that discussion so I will start a new one here…
Would guess as the budget crisis filters down even further that this type of story will become more common
From San Diego Union Tribune:
Three cities propose one fire department
Saving money, improving services are goals of merger
By Michele Clock and Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
2:00 a.m. September 26, 2009
EAST COUNTY — Three East County cities are moving forward on plans to consolidate their fire departments, a step officials say could save more than $560,000 a year.
Lemon Grove City Council members discussed the proposal last week, and El Cajon City Council members heard the plans in a workshop session this week. La Mesa City Council members are expected to take up the topic Tuesday.
The three cities took a first step toward a regional fire department in July, when they agreed to provide joint-senior-staff coverage after hours. The councils could vote to approve a joint-powers agreement to share additional services next month. The agreement would take effect in January if approved by all three cities.
Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom said the original reason for looking into further cooperation earlier this year was to save money, but city officials also discovered a potential to deliver better services. One benefit she pointed to was the ability of firefighters to train in different work environments.
Sessom said city officials would have to see how things go in the first few years, but she is supportive of the plans.
“I think it’s a grand vision,” she said. “I’m excited about it.”
Under the agreement, the cities would share the cost of a regional department under a formula based on population and number of calls. El Cajon would provide 54.49 percent of the regional department’s budget, La Mesa would provide 31.21 percent and Lemon Grove would contribute 14.3 percent.
A study of the proposal broke down the expected personnel savings to each city under the proposal. El Cajon would save $126,015 annually, La Mesa would save $254,903, and Lemon Grove would save $179,329. The cities could have additional savings by jointly buying materials, supplies and services, the study said.
Santee opted not to join the regional department, and the study says no new members should be allowed to join for two years.
At the workshop session Tuesday, El Cajon City Council members were generally supportive of the plans but questioned why El Cajon’s savings were less than those of the other cities. Lemon Grove City Manager Graham Mitchell, who attended the workshop session, told council members that El Cajon’s savings would increase as the cities consolidated more services.
El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis said the consolidation will improve services for all three cities’ residents.
“Nobody cares what the emblem is on the firetruck,” Lewis said.
If approved, the department would be phased in through a four-step process. The first step is occurring now, as city councils hear and decide on the plans.
The first year of the department would involve refining firefighter and administrative assignments, standardizing policies and developing training.
In the second year of the department, negotiations would attempt to align labor agreements with firefighter unions, and cost estimates would be updated. The third year would involve the transition to a single agency.
Other challenges include standardizing procedures and equipment among the three cities.
But La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid said he was optimistic.
“It’s not a challenge per se,” Madrid said. “It’s no different from when a company merges with three other components. Eventually those kind of things work themselves out.”
Sam Rihan, president of the El Cajon Professional Firefighters Association, said the labor group has been involved in the plans for the department consolidation and supports the proposal.
“It makes sense for the cities to be more efficient,” Rihan said.
© Copyright 2009 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC
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