Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Orland Fire Protection District Budget opened to public for first time

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Orland Fire Protection District Budget process opened to public for first time

OFPD – For the first time in its 42 year official history, the Orland Fire Protection District opened its budget  deliberations to the public and began a line-by-line review of district spending.

OFPD President Jim Hickey and Acting Fire Chief Raymond Kay led the first of three public hearings with board members who attended the meeting Blair Rhode, Chris Evoy and Glenn Michalek.

Hickey said the new process is designed so that interested taxpayers can understand what has been a very complicated budget process in the past.

“We have divided the budget into three parts. Essential spending, spending that is important and spending that is considered beneficial but not always essential to the operation of the Fire District,” Hickey said.

“We have placed district services and spending in each category so that we can ensure that we preserve and protect the high quality of service that the taxpayers are paying for, and to find ways to trim the budget to make it more in line with the challenges of today’s economy and with the spending reflected by other public fire agencies. Our spending is way up there and there is a false notion that spending and quality service are linked.”

Hickey said the OFPD has some of the best trained firefighters in the country, but he said that the past budgets have reflected an attitude that went “way beyond” reason and resulted in excessive spending that in reality didn’t always make a difference in terms of fire quality.

“On Tuesday (Oct. 4) we went through the first part of the budget reviewing eight areas of service, examining the spending needs line-by-line. It was a fascinating process to review what we are doing and how we can do it better and also more efficiently and cost-effectively,” Hickey said.

Hickey said department heads are being asked to bring their budget needs to the board for review, categorizing them in three areas of need from the most important to those that can be more carefully managed.

“The taxpayers are demanding that we look at spending at the fire district,” said Rhode. “The taxes for the fire district are the highest after spending for the local school districts. As a government agency, we have a responsibility to the public not just to give them the best fire protection services but to do so in the most cost-effective manner with an eye towards protecting the hard-earned dollars that they put in to our government.”

Hickey said that the district will hold two more budget meetings on Tuesday Oct. 11 and Tuesday Oct. 18, both beginning at 5 pm. The district’s regularly scheduled board meeting is Tuesday Oct. 25, also at 5 pm.

Since the new board was sworn in, the district has saved more than $1 million, mainly through personnel changes and cutbacks in costs from reducing media consulting costs by $12,000 to reducing some non-essential services.

Evoy said that he is hopeful that the District’s new Springfield Lobbyist will help identify funding sources that will be used to help cover costs that now come from taxpayer pockets. The District’s lobbyist in Springfield is Cheryl Axley who was hired in June. Axley joins consultant Cindy Katsenes who is working for the district pro bono and is looking at ways to better manage the district's personnel budget and assignments.

Hickey said that he is hopeful the district could qualify for grants as much as $500,000 to off-set spending for next year’s budget.

“Our goal is to return money to the taxpayers who continue to do their part by supporting this district,” Hickey said. “We need to do our part.”

Kay said that the previous budget process included the submittal of a request by those who administer the budget, followed by administrative reduction. 

“In the past, the budget preparers did not realize what their budget contained until they saw it again in January when it was distributed,” Kay said.

“This year, after reviewing the sum of all proposals, budget preparers were asked to revisit their budgets with the task of reducing their requests.  As a result of this activity, 1 million dollars were collectively reduced across all budget submittals.”

Each of the budget preparers now have an idea of which components are more critical or not and make adjustments accordingly.  Kay added the preparers are involved in decision-making.

“Each of these people have more of a sense of engagement in their particular areas,” Kay said. “They also understand that this may not be the final action on their budget because they are looking at only a segment of the whole and do not have the opportunity to see the big picture.  I expect that the Board of Trustees will further address these requests to determine a final budget.”

The Orland district area was served by a volunteer fire force that began sometime in 1894, but the District was officially founded in 1973.