Over the next few months, the city will be soliciting bids for public safety services. We currently receive our police services through a contract with American Fork Police Department and our fire and EMS services through an interlocal agreement with Lone Peak Public Safety, which also provides services to Alpine and Highland. Because our contract with American Fork Police will expire in 2019, last year the City Council decided it would be best to go through a bid process for our public safety services to research all options available to our city. This is not to suggest that we are unhappy with either American Fork or Lone Peak. We receive exceptional service from both entities and appreciate the relationships we have built with those who serve our community.
Because of our location, we are in a unique situation in that we have a few neighboring cities who have expressed interest in partnering with our city for public safety services. In addition to neighboring cities, we also have the option of utilizing the county for fire and/or police. Other cities of our size may only have one or two options available to them, so we are fortunate that we have multiple options, all of which are highly qualified.
Public safety is our largest General Fund expense and we are anticipating an increase in both fire and police services. With the growth that has come to our area, there has been an increase in the number of calls to dispatch for public safety services. As we review bids the City Council will be discussing items such as what level of a police presence we need, and what levels of staffing we want for fire and EMS in our city.
While the impact on our budget matters, we will be looking at several other factors as we go through each bid. For example, as we look at police services, one thing to keep in mind is that we have experienced an increase in the number of calls for police services over the past few years.
A significant portion of those calls is responding to issues related to theft and other issues in our commercial area. We also saw an increase in property crimes in 2017, many of which were related to open vehicles or garages. While our police department is proactively analyzing data each month to help us identify trends and issues in order to reduce crimes of opportunity, we may wish to explore increasing patrols or having an officer stationed in our public safety building. Adding more patrols and/or increasing the police presence in our city increases our cost, but might be something worth considering, especially with the growth that is coming to our area around North County Blvd. In addition to patrols and presence, we will also be looking at other services that the police department provides, such as community outreach programs, victim’s advocate services, and other resources that are important to members of our community. Our budget for police services for the fiscal year 2018 is $420,395.
When it comes to fire and EMS services, response time is essential. When we formed the Lone Peak Public Safety District with Alpine and Highland (I’ll refer to it as LPPSD or the District), the plan was for each city to have a fully-staffed station in order to quickly respond to fire and medical calls. Unfortunately, the cost to do this has been challenging for all three cities and we have been unable to keep all three stations fully staffed. There have been multiple occasions when the District has had to close either the Cedar Hills or Alpine station because of staffing shortages. The District Board is working with the new fire chief to address this, but may not be able to staff at levels that were originally agreed to.
When we talk about being fully-staffed, that means having four firefighters/EMS personnel at each station at all times. This is because, by law, when firefighters respond to a fire call, they are not allowed to enter a burning building unless a team of four arrives at the scene. That same rule does not apply to medical calls; we can have a team of two or three EMS personnel respond to a medical call. If we have four firefighters at all three stations at all times, they are able to respond to a fire in each city. However, fire calls are a small fraction of the number of calls we receive. In 2017, the number of calls for fire and/or EMS dispatched to Cedar Hills were as follows:
We also have mutual aid agreements with all surrounding cities and each city responds to help with large fires, as needed. Knowing this, a valid question to ask is whether or not it makes sense to staff all three stations with four firefighters at all times, or if we instead lower the staffing levels for each to handle medical calls and work together to handle fire calls. As we will be receiving bids from other entities as well, we will be looking at response times as it will be important to know how quickly those entities can respond to every area of our city. Fire/EMS services are currently our largest public safety expense at $680,496 and we expect an increase this year.
As the Council discusses these services, I urge residents to share feedback. Public safety is an essential service and we value your opinion. When the bids come in, we will have a better understanding of what our options are and what the impact will be on the budget moving forward.
Based on a comment received, I am providing some financial information showing costs of Fire/EMS as a percentage of General Fund Revenue for Cedar Hills and cities of about the same population and General Fund Revenue.