The three-way fire protection and emergency medical service contract between the cities of Hollister, San Juan Bautista and San Benito County offers an opportunity to provide better service at lower cost than any go-it-alone concept, but it’s takes a lot of dynamic planning and nimble management to get it right.
If properly designed and implemented the agreement should result in better service at reduced cost by integrating the work and spreading the overhead costs over a larger operation. However, the term “reduced cost” is relative – it applies to what you pay for a given level of service, not merely an arbitrary dollar figure.
For example, if a go-it-alone new fire station or a better located, manned and equipped staging area costs X and you can do it for less than X, you save the difference. You’re getting more for your money.
The targets for fire protection and medical services are dynamic, each new development, traffic pattern, business, demographic and funding arrangement alters the formula in the service area.
Just to make it a little harder politics gets involved. Politicians are always under tremendous pressure to provide and keep these desirable public service jobs for their constituents and selecting one provider often means that you reject the other providers. Let’s be honest, not too many people are willing to say, “Sure, put my job at risk because I know it’s better for the community.” It happens, but not often.
Things tend to change faster than our decision-making process even when we have fair warning that the changes are coming; it’s human nature to keep putting off distasteful and difficult decisions as long as possible and that is where proper planning, agreements and management, from the political to the operational, can help.
The problem for the provider – in this case the City of Hollister and fire department – is that functional revenue, which is revenue targeted to a specific service such as a contract or a grant, comes and goes and a lagging reaction can bust the budget. A million-dollar shift is only a small change in a $200 million General Fund budget, but it is 5 percent of a $20 million GF budget.
In the same respects, more of our emergency service costs for new development are moving to Community Facilities Districts (CFD), where the residents pay for part of their services directly with tax dollars; that changes the budgetary construct and we should be forecasting those shifts based on our development planning horizon.
We cannot afford to wait until after the fact and play catch-up. The communities of San Benito County and their residents have to be confident that up to date plans are in place and that we are prepared execute them when the situation changes and that includes both on the management and labor sides. The Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) which are, essentially, the union contracts, need to be as flexible as the management and response plans.
The days of making a plan and stuffing it into a drawer for a decade are gone, no one can afford to do the people’s business that way anymore.