Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Added Manhattan

A relaxing holiday weekend was a nice respite after a somewhat hectic week of local politics revolving around the proposal to place a public safety bond issue on the ballot for Lincoln voters sometime in the not-too-distant future. The good news is that despite the dust-up, a consensus seems to have emerged that the proposal to replace our radio system and to spread out our fire & rescue services is sound.

I was taken to task on my blog and in the comments on some of the news stories for a number of things: not moving more assertively to make the case for more police and more firefighters; being too assertive in doing so. I'm used to catching it from both directions, but one commenter made a good point that I should clarify, noting that the radio system serves not only public safety users, but several other City agencies: the Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Building and Safety and Health Departments.

This is quite true, although in some circumstances (like Saturday), the Public Works, Building and Safety, and Health Departments really are part of the public safety team. Nonetheless, you wouldn't ordinarily think of these operations as public safety. They are on the same radio system as a matter of practicality. It made no financial sense for several city agencies to operate and maintain separate radio systems, so back in 1987 we planned a single system to serve all the City agencies' radio needs. While it is a multi-user, I still think it's fair to characterize the system as a public safety radio network, since 85% of the actual use is by the public safety agencies.

Thursday, searching for a way of describing the City's growth since we last added a fire station in 1997, I decided to use a nearby 'burg that many Lincoln residents are familiar with from our days in the Big 8: Manhattan, Kansas. We've grown by 22 square miles and 57,000 people since 1997, and that's about the size of Manhattan. The City of Manhattan, of course, has a fire department--with five fire stations. It does not, however, have a police department. Rather, it is served by the Riley County Police Department, a countywide agency unique in our part of the United States, although common in some parts of the east and northwest.


Tim Hegarty said...

Thanks for the mention, Director. Some of us down here miss Nebraska being in the Big XII. We are also dealing with radio issues, so we wish you the best of luck in your efforts to upgrade your system.

Alex Andersen said...

Lincoln does need these improvements. I know you probably hear alot of ideas, but I have a few possible to pay for the improvements in part or whole that may or may not be so popular.
Since 80% of LFR's calls are for medical, it's reasonable to assume 80% of their radio traffic is also medical. As one possibility, why not investigate adding a $1 or so radio surcharge to ambulance bills to possibly fund the improvements.
Another idea is to raise certain fees/tickets that LPD issues like for false alarms or just general traffic or tresspassing tickets to attempt to slightly close the gap.
My final idea, although I doubt it would happen due to continuted cuts on their part to things like RTSD, is to go in on a joint cost with the county government. These are just a few ideas I thought of while reading news articles.

Tom Casady said...


I appreciate your ideas, just want you to understand some of the problems.

1. LF&R will respond to around 16,000 medical emergencies this year, but only around half of the ambulance bills are actually paid. Thus, a buck would generate around $8,000.

2. The State Constitution requires that all fines be paid into the general fund of the school district. Lincoln could not tack on a ticket fee to help fund a radio system.

3. The Lancaster County Sheriff's Office accounts for 6.78% of the radios. They already are paying their share of the annual costs of operating the system, and will be expected to continue to do so.

Alex Andersen said...

Thanks for the response, and I suspected that was the case with ticket revenue. Has the idea of using savings from vehicles that use alternative fuels been tossed out there? Even from other departments of the city that use the radios like StarTran which is expected to save from using CNG?

Anonymous said...

"The State Constitution requires that all fines be paid into the general fund of the school district. Lincoln could not tack on a ticket fee to help fund a radio system."

That is a brilliant feature of our state constitution isn't a "problem", and whoever thought of it was a genius. It effectively eliminates revenue-grabbing speed traps and other such greedy ticketing schemes by putting a wall between those officials who send fines from those who collect them. Municipalities (including Lincoln) have tried to end-run around the state constitution by methods such as spending taxpayer money to lobby for traffic cameras - with proposed legislation which would have sleazily relabeled fines as "fees", thus allowing municipalities to keep fine, er, "fee" monies. Luckily, that effort crashed and burned.

On a related note, it's curious that public safety "can't wait", yet a few years ago, building an extremely expensive arena was a far higher priority. It's not like you hadn't been telling them for years that this needed done, so it would be lie for them to state that this was a revelation to them.

I know, I know, as a city official, you have to salute whatever the boss runs up the pole, or else resign (or just remain mute).

I voted for the last radio upgrade bond, by the way, and it's the only bond issue to ever get my yes vote. This one would have got my no vote, though - because of that arena bond, which was soooo important that they had to put it on a local election ballot instead of waiting for the next congressional election.

Tom Casady said...


I agree with you completely on the wisdom of the provision in our Constitution that directs fines to the school districts--for the reason you stated.

Anonymous said...

The arena bond got Lincoln through the great recession without the fallout that many other cities, like Omaha, had to face... all of the construction jobs and investments into infrastructure, both public and private, equated to tax dollars. It couldn't have happened at a better time.

As far as issuing a radio upgrade bond at the time instead of the arena bond, I wonder how many jobs buying radios could have created? Most likely under ten and somewhere far away...

Whatever comes up, I'll be voting yes. Lincoln can't keep on using a 1980's (cold war)-era radio system for what happens now here during the 21st Century. Hopefully the next time we'll be looking at another replacement radio system bond won't be until the toasty year of 2037 - unless Lincoln would like it's public safety radio system to be clunked together with random parts bought off of ebay, craigslist and the black market.....

Anonymous said...

Bond issues pass automatically by voters when it's "for the children" yet a public safety system that protects everyone - including children - voters are hesitant?

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to update the radio system with a new computer and programing, allowing the current radios to continue being used?

I would think that could provide substantial savings.

Anonymous said...

I recognize it was not Lincoln Police department, rather this was likely the NE State Patrol, which undertook the conduct described in this Washington Post story, but I cannot support any more funding for police activities within the State until this sort of behavior is stopped. Citizen's rights must be given proper respect, not to mention crime being at a multi-decade low across the USA.