[cleeng_content id="551307742" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The recent decision to approve a $40 per household fee in Jefferson County is not adequate and will not provide the sustained services as requested by the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association. The JCFRA is made up of representatives from all seven Jefferson County fire companies.
For more than eight years, the JCFRA has been requesting additional funding in order to provide supplemental staffing to all seven fire stations throughout Jefferson County. After negotiating with the Jefferson County Commission, and amidst the absence of available funds to provide improved services, the JCFRA was given the sole option of supporting a fee. Without a fee collected, the JCFRA was advised by the County Commission that there would be no funding available to support the additional staffing plan.
Each individual fire company in Jefferson County is its own corporation. Together, they work as an organization called the JCFRA. The JCFRA in turn works collaboratively with a county component of emergency services, Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency. The individual fire companies do not work for nor are they governed by the JCESA, but work collaboratively to provide quality fire/EMS services in Jefferson County. Over the years, Jefferson County has grown significantly, but funding for the volunteer fire companies has remained the same.
The JCFRA, based on typical operational cost, estimate that at a minimum, the volunteer fire companies save Jefferson County approximately $28 million annually. Every year, the fire companies sign an agreement with the Jefferson County Commission to provide emergency services to the citizens of Jefferson County. This is required by state Code that the county commission of every county provide emergency services to its citizens. That amount is roughly $25,000. With compliance guidelines in place to create transparency with the use of county funding, the County Commission graciously provides an additional $36,000 to each fire company for other operating expenses. The total amount given to the fire companies equals $427,000, which is divided equally between the seven fire companies. Each fire company gets a total of $61,000 a year.
The volunteer fire departments that are operating ambulance services do charge “user” or patient insurance providers. The revenue collected from the billing is used to fund ambulance operations, maintenance, fuel, drugs, medical supplies and EMS equipment used on the ambulance units.
The fire companies do receive state funding for the fire operations, which is $45,000 a year. Those funds are dispersed quarterly at approximately $11,000, each quarter. Besides the funding from the state, none of the fire companies receive a consistent revenue stream to fund the fire suppression side of the operation. Thus, portions of the collected ambulance revenue is used to subsidize the fire operation expenses, which are quite cumbersome when you factor in required hose testing, ladder inspections, fuel, maintenance, personal protective equipment, training, insurance, workers compensation, building payments, typical utility payments, radio equipment, National Fire Protection Association compliance, etc.
The JCFRA has been working directly with the JCESA and the County Commission for a number of years with the intent of avoiding catastrophe before we found ourselves in the midst of the storm in relation to emergency services. Countless hours of time have been put forth conducting work sessions with the commissioners, JCESA personnel and the fire and rescue association. Transparent budget information, details of operations, growth impact, mutual aid, response times and all other aspects of the volunteer system in Jefferson County has been dissected and dissected time and again. The county commissioners have been educated in full detail about the crisis the volunteer system faces.
The community is what makes the wheels turn in the volunteer system in Jefferson County. The JCFRA is very concerned and cognizant of the impact the proposed fee will have on the very citizens who continue to support the fire companies with needed and appreciated donations. In return for that support, the volunteer companies take pride and have an unyielding commitment to provide Fire and EMS services. The volunteer companies also provide fire prevention education at our schools, services at the County Fair and large events as requested.
The fee is not about padding budgets, as some of the county commissioners have led our community to believe. The fee is intended to provide additional paid staffing to supplement the volunteer system, and assist with ever-increasing operational cost of fire and EMS operations. The fee would allow for an additional nine paid staff to be strategically placed at the individual fire stations in order to improve response time for patient care. The fee would also provide additional funding to aid in the increased operational cost increases associated with staff placement. The JCFRA offers complete transparency of what we need to accomplish in the community. There is no hiding the fact that additional funding is required to keep up with growth impact and increased emergency call volume.
The unfortunate truth to this fee is that the citizens of Jefferson County are being asked to further contribute in order for the volunteer system to be able to succeed. We seek improvements. We seek to better serve the citizens of the county.
The process of a fee may not be the most favorable solution to the JCFRA; however with no additional funding available through the county’s General Fund, the reality of a potential fee is where we are. We all live in a world of economic hardship. We as citizens feel the pinch. It is the world we live in, and so do the volunteer fire companies in Jefferson County. The County Commission can easily dissect the proposed fee and dwindle the amount down to $40 to make themselves feel like they have done due diligence in protecting the community from such a large expense. What they are really approving for the citizens of Jefferson County is an amount that will not provide the fire companies with what they are asking for in order to improve critical services. The reality is a $40 fee pushes further operational demand with no recovery revenue. The individual fire companies will bear the brunt of the costs associated with their proposal which simply doesn’t make fiscal sense.
The fee is a plan put together by the fire companies to better serve the community; it’s not a political agenda. The formula for the fee was established based on actual statistics over many years clearly indicating the need for supplemental staffing. Rejection of that need, dissecting the plan, and manipulating the numbers of the plan to “ease the pain” on the community is nothing more than a demonstration by our elected officials in Jefferson County that your public safety may not be ranked highest on the priority list.
In light of all of the work, time and efforts of many for the sole purpose of better serving the community, the JCFRA does not support a $40 fee to the citizens who will not benefit from it. The proposed fee amount assumes a 100 percent collection and will cover only nine staff positions. That looks good on paper but is simply not a true measure of what is needed. And it gets worse. All the while the JCFRA pleads for additional funding due to shortfalls and an inadequate fee proposal the fire companies are now faced with a potential 5 percent funding cut. In closing, the JCFRA and individual fire companies stand ready and prepared to serve. We will continue to support the citizens of Jefferson County through thick or thin. It will be difficult but we pledge that we will continue to do our best. We urge the community to continue to support your fire company.
— Chris Higdon is the vice president of the Jefferson County Fire
and Rescue Association