HFD’s Measure U spending comes in under budget

Photo courtesy of City of Hemet
Fire Chief Scott Brown.

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown delivered some good news to the Hemet City Council at the Jan. 9 meeting—$647,832 of the Measure U fund balance will carry over to FY 18/19. During the update, Brown laid the cards on the table. There are issues that need to be addressed such as: aging infrastructure, need for more dispatchers, and working to utilize technology for efficiency and cost containment.
“I am not going to put the city in harm’s way fiscally by looking at short term—we are looking at long term and strengthening long-term sustainability,” Brown said in a phone conversation after the meeting. “For every new person hired, there is a PERS impact. Even though [we] promote staffing, everyone needs to understand the cost.”
“We do not know what the revenue stream is going to look like,” said Brown regarding Measure U revenue. “We look and make assumptions based on economic indicators. The fund balance needs to grow every year and that will be important for all the unfunded priorities.”
Brown said he believes that the department needs everything on the table but that it needs to be implemented incrementally.
Brown told The Valley Chronicle that the call volume for the Hemet Fire Department (HFD) will exceed 17,000 for 2017 once the numbers are finalized.
“We have an outstanding relationship with American Medical Response (AMR),” said Brown when asked about the department’s work relationship with the ambulance company. “What makes the public/private partnership work is that we get in there in 6 minutes and then AMR responds to transport,” continued Brown.

Year 1 accomplishments
The department’s peak demand unit is a mobile “rapid response unit” and not parked at any one station. The peak unit has deployed over 900-hours since the approval of Measure U and has reduced the workload on individual engines, according to Brown. The peak unit addresses the “demand curve,” which is determined by an analysis of call load.
“When a call is dispatched, they [rapid response unit] go to that call and if the call comes in Engine 1’s district, then they go to that call,” explained Brown.
The department also added three fire captains, re-established the battalion chief rank, and established ALS/paramedic services (ALS-advanced life support) at Station 4 in west Hemet.

Changes were needed
Brown recognized that some changes needed to happen when he joined the department.
“Twenty five percent of the calls that come into the dispatch center should not be sending an engine,” said Brown. “To that person, it may be an emergency, but an engine is not always the appropriate response.”
Two additional dispatchers were hired as part of the Measure U dispatch budget.
Brown says that emergency medical dispatch needs to be implemented and the city needs to build up its dispatch center with more dispatchers to make that happen.
In January 2015, the city began a multi-phased study to assess the department’s future needs. The findings of that study were presented to the city council in June 2015.
Phase 2, known as community risk assessment standards of coverage, began in December 2017. It is a comprehensive micro view, according to Brown, to assess what we should be prepared for. What are the risk needs and how is our staffing matched to that risk? “
According to the presentation, this study will build upon the Phase 1 findings and provide the city a “Best Industry Practice” approach towards areas of staffing, response standards, and future service delivery needs.
Currently, if Engine 4 is out on a call and the ladder truck is needed, there is no staff to operate the ladder truck. Staffing the ladder truck is a priority and the study will help determine its best location.
Brown stressed again that the department needs to be built around the fiscal reality. This phase 2 study will provide the analytics to make effective decisions and policy changes.
Who is doing the study? Commissioned Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) – working with international association of firefighters in showing data and doing analysis together. According to their website, ESCI “provides specialized, high quality, professional fire, police, communications, and EMS consulting services to organizations throughout the United States and Canada. ESCI has been meeting the needs of emergency services agencies since 1976 and is considered by many to be the nation’s leader in public safety consulting.”

The numbers
Included in Brown’s presentation is the fully burdened cost of a firefighter/paramedic ($121,163), an engineer ($131,005) and a captain ($159,260).

The newspaper asked Brown to provide the numbers regarding the Measure U expenditures and revenue from the Finance Department.
For FY17 (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017)
Expenditures (Fire Department only):
Budgeted: $586,030
Actual: $168,621

“These numbers actually reflect January 2017-June 2017, the initial appropriation ‘bump start’ approved by council,” said Brown, after the passage of Measure U in November 2016. (Note that the fiscal year is July 2016-June 2017.)
For FY 2018 (July 1, 2017-Dec. 31, 2017)
Expenditures (Fire Department only):
Budgeted: $1,475,099
Actual: $360,541

The split for the Measure U revenue is set at two-thirds going to the police department and one-third going to the fire department. What is the revenue?
For 2017:
Budgeted: $2,239,243 – Fire allocation-$746,414
Actual: $1,870,227
For 2018:
Budgeted: $10,000,000 – terms of Measure U
YTD: $4,664,502

“Bottom line, first-year service enhancements are completed and within budget,” Brown said. “As of today, on the revenue side, we are trending slightly lower than anticipated–this is mainly due to the “lag” that occurs in terms of actual collection of sales tax proceeds.”
“The fund balance carryover of $647,832 is a one-time carryover,” stated Brown in an email. “This will build over time. That base building will be critical to address future staffing, equipment and longer term priorities as identified in our 5-year staffing plan.

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