Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Options abound

Monday night, the City Council voted to restore fire station 11 to the budget, a cut that I had proposed when Lincoln Fire & Rescue was facing the prospect of a major hit during the upcoming fiscal year.  Now that it’s back, we will be focusing on our study of the optimal way for us to use our existing resources.  The issue of how many stations Lincoln needs (and can afford) is not going away, and we need to be well-prepared to give our elected officials and citizens our best professional judgment.

This includes an examination of our existing facilities and our future needs.  Nothing is off the table, and there are many options that need to be considered.  The past few fire chiefs have stressed the need for one or two additional fire stations, and the first of those stations are in the City’s Capital Improvement Program (although without any funding source.)  I’m not so sure.  I’ll have to see that need myself before I sign up with the program.  It’s not that I can’t be convinced, but I need to make sure we consider the options.

The need for new fire stations has been predicated on the growth of Lincoln.  Since we occupied the newest station (14) in 1997, Lincoln has grown by 49,000.  That’s the equivalent of Nebraska’s third largest City, Grand Island, with Auburn thrown in to boot. Growth would certainly suggest the need for more fire stations and fire companies, but maybe we could accomplish quite a bit by relocating one or two existing stations, by relocating apparatus, by opening one or more medic-only stations, or by (heresy!) breaking apart an engine company and a truck company.  Maybe a combination produces the best return on investment: something like building one, moving two, and lighting up a medic-only station.

Fire stations aren’t cheap, but the real cost is not in the construction, it’s in the staffing.  You pay the contractor once; you pay the salaries and benefits every year. I don’t think it is likely that the checkbook will be thrown open, so we need to make the best investment of the dollars that become available. The key question is this: what provides the best result for the money?

Think about this for a moment:  when the need for elementary schools changed, Lincoln Public Schools did  more than just build more: they also moved.  Here’s a few former schools that have other uses now: Whittier, Bryan, Willard, Hawthorne, Bethany, and Hayward.  I’m probably forgetting a few.  For sure, they added schools, too, but they also moved to where the kids were.


Anonymous said...

I knew the Mayor made a wise decision when he made you Public Safety Director. Your in depth analysis and out of the box thinking will save Lincoln big money in the long run. Its refreshing to see your cost saving perspective applied to LFR.

Steve said...

I'm not sure LPS is spending our money so wisely, but that's another issue. Your point about moving stations rather than building additional ones could be a way to save money while maintaining good service under the right circumstances. Without having really studied the issues, my impression is that LPS is wasting a lot of money, and not necessarily providing better service. Maybe Dr. Joel should have a "The Superintendent's Desk" blog to provide some incite and witty banter on those topics.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Casady, I said it when you were appointed to this new position of fiduciary for the taxpayers of Lincoln. The salary you earn (and I mean 'earn' in the purest sense) will, I hope, be more than offset by the savings that I trust you will create through some creative problem solving. Yes, the fire department's spending habits and old school thinking are a problem. We finally have the right person driving the fire truck.