02/18/10 179 W, 2 I - + 7 - 12 Sales Tax Suggested to Improve Emergency Services in Cumberland County

From a reader, yesterday's Fayetteville Observer published this article about a proposed sales tax in Cumberland County, to fund a five-year upgrade plan for ambulance service, fire protection, and emergency communications. The plan is part of a report that's been a year in the making. Public safety officials say that, if the sales tax were approved, elected officials should then reduce property taxes. Thus, getting consumers to pay more, and property owners to pay less. They estimate the switch would save business owners and homeowners nearly $30 million a year.

However, approving a sales tax would probably require approval of both state legislators and county voters, says the County Manager. And distribution of the new funds should be approved by a public safety commission, they suggest. The story also reports some of the challenges faced by responders in Cumberland County, including multiple communications centers, and long response times for ambulances.

Read the Fayetteville Observer story.

View the Public Safety Task Force report and presentation, downloaded from the county web site.

This is a report worth reading and offers a slightly diferent approach. Cumberland still needs to define the differences related to underfunding and what is a standardized level of service. When words like “minimum” and “standard” are used, these levels must be clearly defined to serve as a benchmark for development or improvement. Hat’s off to Cumberland as the report is meritorious in that it seeks to improve emergency services across the board. However, the determined “service levels” MUST be acted upon; even if it means a department reducing its “size” to allow for improvement elsewhere. These mechanisms MUST be defined up front and not evolve based upon political influence or reactive deciison making.

Remember, service is not equated to the size of a fire station, the quantity of apparatus, the number of volunteers or paid staff, how many calls you respond to. Service is actually measured by the satisfaction level of our customers as compared to best practices and national standards. Yep, it’s the true measure of success. One fire truck, two, or maybe three, a ladder, a rescue… three FF’s on a truck or 4, vols, paid, combos…?? This continually baffling perspective still evades us in Wake County because WE as “the fire service” are allowed to define ourselves based on what we perceive as necessary. For example, there is no set standard for organizational structure (depth and/or expanse). So, if a fire department has too many trucks simply because it’s how many they have always had, how do we require their fleet to diminish so savings may occur? This is one example and the list of reductive applications can go on and on… Maybe this post is going a little too far…, but these erratic inconsistencies are root causes for Wake County’s dilemma. Yes, NFPA standards related to training and response are present, but it often feels like we can deliver the same level of “service” with a little less resources. So, how does Wake County measure service right now?

Is a public safety sale tax a way for Wake CO?... who knows. It is apparaent that Cumberland’s Fire Commission will have to establish very solid ground rules or they will evolve unmanaged; and will experience many of the issues we now contend with in Wake Co.
A.C. Rich - 02/18/10 - 18:03

Chief, you make very good points. As we have all had to tighten our belts recently budgets have become more and more in focus. I wonder how much longer any county agency (not just Wake’s) will get by with playing by their own rules. I have never been a proponent of overt county control but ground rules would go a long way. It surprises me how governmental spending goes so un-checked (relatively so) for each individual department. I could never get by in the corporate world with the logic of many agencies. I agree that there need to be measurable terms that can be tested for progress and merit when providing funds. I think it was wrong in ‘the days of plenty’ to spend as recklessly as we have, but it’s even more inappropriate in this day and age. I think it’s a great idea to implement some additional appropriation of taxes to go to public service, but we’ve got to all be on the same level ground first.(I can already see the dead horse rising…beat away)
Mike H. - 02/18/10 - 19:26

What might a level playing field look like in Wake County? At least for the fire service? And not necessarily with parity in stations and staffing and apparatus. We’ve discussed (and bitched about) those things before. The Cumberland County report left me thinking about service levels. And beyond response times. Levels of service such as, say, first responder.

Some fire departments in Wake County have EMTs (and at a couple levels of EMT, correct?), and some have only Medical Responders. What’s the citizen impact there? How does that affect patient care? And what’s the impact on responders, when two or more departments respond together?

How do service levels apply in fire suppression? Do those living in one district get different suppression than those living in another district? e.g., different skills, training, experience, etc.? Or all line firefighters, city or county, comparable? Then moving up the food chain, the same questions might be asked of line officers and chief officers. Heck, even of big chiefs, of which we have apples, oranges, and pears in Wake County. (Full-time, part-time, and volunteer.) Wait, did I just call somebody pear-shaped??

We’re doing good in Wake County, really. Read accounts from other areas, and economic troubles have taken their toll. You guys and gals are saving lives and preserving property. Kudos all around. What we’re talking here is, I guess, optimization. Getting things tighter, righter, and better. Efficiency-izing.
Legeros - 02/18/10 - 20:28

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