(August 12, 2004) -- At an August 11 evening meeting of the City Council's Budget Oversight Committee, city management provided what amounted to a de facto preview of its FY 05 proposed City Hall budget...which is due to be unveiled later today (August 12) by LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill, along with her recommendations.
City management's budget assumes LBFD will reduce its spending by about $1.5 million...but it doesn't specify how. Multiple efficiency and optimization studies are pending. LBFD is examining ways to reduce FTEs (full time equivalent employees) as an alternative to closing (or "merging") fire stations.
Vice Mayor Jackie Kell said closing fire stations would anger the public...and Richard Brandt of the LB Firefighters Association said closing stations would lengthen response times, especially in ELB's 5th District.
LBFD Chief Dave Ellis said the $1.5 million in savings was expected...and multiple efficiency and optimization studies are in the process of being completed. He indicated that reducing about a dozen FTEs and implementing other efficiencies equated to roughly $1.5 million...rough the same sum as closing a fire station.
Vice Mayor Kell responded, "The problem with closing a fire station is that it's a political hot potato, like whose fire station, where and constituents becoming highly upset. However, have you targeted a couple of stations that could be closed?"
Fire Chief Ellis replied, "[T]he optimization studies being done [have] made different recommendations that are not final at this point. They don't use the word closure, they use the word "merge," they'd merge certain stations. At this point in time, you don't merge a station, you actually end up closing one of the stations. The stations that were identified were station 18, station 5, there would be a consolidation of those two stations. There was also discussion of possibly the consolidation of station 8 and station 14 also...[W]e've made additional recommendations that would [reduce]...full time equivalents without actually closing the fire stations as an option."
City Manager Miller quickly added, "We're going to be bringing the Fire Services review on September 14, and I think what the Chief is doing at this point in time is kind of going through that report and going through the options...so I think he's outlined for you that there may be any number of ways to get to the $1.5 million in savings but he hasn't yet finalized, nor have I, what those specific reductions might be, but I think we're pretty confident we can get to the targeted savings of $1.5 million. We sort of have the cart before the horse on those...because he hasn't fully reviewed the outcome of that assessment yet."
City Manager Miller added that one option "if we find that we cannot get to the entire reduction target" is to adjust the budget throughout the fiscal year. "We can make adjustments and theoretically accommodate the shortfall if there in fact is a shortfall between what we expect to save and might be able to save, so I think you have a lot of fallbacks basically on that," City Manager Miller said.
LB Firefighters Association official Richard Brandt told the Budget Oversight Committee,
"If we do lose [a station] in the configuration that we have now, it will increase our response time...especially out in the 5th [Council] district, because our stations now are further apart than they would be in [cetral LB].
Following his testimony, LBReport.com asked Fire Chief Ellis if a proposal to reduce firefighter staffing from 4 to 3 firefighters per engine (which some have opposed on public safety grounds) was off the table. Chief Ellis confirmed that it is off the table.
Further to follow after the budget is formally unveiled by Mayor O'Neill, with her recommendations, later today.
Councilmembers ultimately have the last word on the budget...including the ability to change management's proposed budget. That can be done now during the Sept. 04 budget process, or thereafter as the Council wishes.