CPSE hosts a weekly online forum among agencies in the CFAI accreditation process and officers that hold a CPC designation, bringing together the most progressive fire and emergency service departments and officers in the world. During CPSE Exchange, attendees learn from each other.

The event is a facilitated attendee-driven info sharing session. Here is a summary of the forum held on June 3, 2020.

What specific budget direction has your agency received and how are you responding to it?

The Rockford (IL) Fire Department reported that its city government started assessing its financial situation approximately 30 days ago and it is projecting a budget deficit range of $12 – $18 million dollars for the current fiscal year. The mayor has established a task force consisting of management and labor representatives and charged it to review all city operations and identify operational efficiencies that might work to reduce the depth of the gap. In the longer term, planned capital expenditures have been deferred and the city council has been asked to consider what programs it is willing to pause, reduce, or eliminate.

The Snoqualmie (WA) Fire Department reported their community has been financially affected by two external forces, the Coronavirus and the loss of a planned, private sector-funded, development project that was projected to be a significant revenue source for the community. The city budget is approximately $40 million, and the individual departments have been tasked with finding $500,000 in expenditure reductions. Additionally, open positions will remain vacant until further notice and the department is considering the use of part-time positions as an alternative.

The Shawnee (KS) Fire Department has recently learned that it, as well as its fellow city departments, is facing budget cuts. They do not know the scope at this time, but three new fulltime positions slated to be filled later this year have been placed on hold with no date set for when they can be funded. Other immediate reductions have occurred in the budget accounts for overtime, clothing, and professional services.

The city of St. Albert (AB) Fire Services in Canada reported that their community has instituted across the board budgetary reductions of 2 percent.

Is your agency considering any alternative revenue strategies?

The City of Snoqualmie is considering a levy increase of 0.02 percent of 1 percent sales tax initiative to support its street repair fund. This would allow the shifting of budget dollars used for that fund back into the general fund that, in turn, supports a variety of city department operations. The fire department is reviewing its current fee structure for ambulance transports and is investigating the possibility of charging for such services as vehicle extrication and cleaning up the incident scene following a vehicle accident. Two other options the department described as “long shots” were the creation of an EMS Utility Fund, similar to an enterprise fund structure that is frequently used to operate water distribution systems and wastewater treatment operations, and the creation of a fire protection district for the area served by the fire department but outside the city borders.

Another agency participating in this Exchange suggested Snoqualmie investigate the fire authority structure rather than a fire district as there are different funding options available to an authority that may be beneficial.

St. Albert Fire Services reported they are currently reviewing all their fee structures to ensure they remain competitive to the surrounding “market” and effectively cover their operational costs directly attributable to a particular fee.

The Shawnee Fire Department reported that it has enacted a cost-recovery fee structure for false activation of commercial fire alarms. On average, the department annually responds to about 450 of these types of alarms.

What adjustments to service might your agency make to offset declining revenues?

Spokane Valley Fire Department had planned to conduct a recruit fire academy with 14 students, all of which would be hired by the department following the completion of the course. That is now deferred. Additionally, the department had planned to stand up a second Alternative Response Unit for low acuity EMS-related requests and staffed with two employees. That has been deferred as well.

The town of Cary (NC) Fire Department reported that all city departments are evaluating their current service delivery programs to identify budget reductions. At this point, nothing specific has been identified.

Is your agency submitting any grant applications?

The Shawnee Fire Department has partnered with the Shawnee Police Department to file a Department of Justice grant to fund the replacement of PPE for both agencies. The grant also includes a cabinet that uses ultraviolet light to decontaminate equipment and a 3D printer to manufacture certain components related to the use of PPE.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department reported they had partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and a private company for the company to purchase a trailer for the department rather than pay a fine to the EPA and are now applying for a separate grant to equip the unit. They are also applying to FEMA to cover overtime and equipment costs related to responding to Covid-19 related incidents.

The Pflugerville (TX) Fire Department reported they had obtained grant funding through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Medicare Providers for EMS transport, and have submitted under an application for FEMA AFG Supplemental funding, and are working on a funding application under the HHS Uninsured Patient Program. They plan on submitting a FEMA Public Assistance application at the end of COVID event response for umbrella funding to cover employee costs, PPE, non-congregate housing, and an alternate care site. They are hoping to recover up to 40 percent of their operating costs. They also reported that they have found it difficult to navigate the grant writing, tracking, and compliance aspects of the projects.

NOTE: Check with your finance department to learn if it or an employee of the department is a member of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). The department reports the weekly membership newsletter distributed by the GFOA has been valuable in summarizing grant availability. www.gfoa.org/

What budget impacts will your agency face in the next fiscal year?

The Snoqualmie Fire Department reported that budget discussions have started earlier than in past years with the initial meetings involving the departments explaining their services. The fire chief commented that due to the work the department has done to become accredited and continually improve, the Council has a good understanding of the department and its performance objectives. Overall, the city is considering a flat to negative budget in the coming fiscal years and is hoping to negotiate a zero increase in wages with the recognized bargaining units. Those employees that are under a performance-based compensation system are unlikely to see increases in the coming year.

The Shawnee Fire Department had planned to introduce an expansion of their EMS program to include advanced life support services, but reported the initiative is delayed for at least 12 months. Additionally, the introduction of a drone program and the replacement of a heavy rescue squad have been deferred for the time being. The operating budget has seen reductions in the vehicle maintenance/repairs line item and the addition of a third fire prevention inspector has been shelved for the foreseeable future.

The new budget of the New Hanover County (NC) Rescue is flat over the previous year. The greatest concern is sales tax revenue, which comprises approximately 40 percent of the operating budget. One full-time position in the training division has been eliminated, but certain capital expenditures such as funding for land acquisition for a fire station remain.