Public Safety Services

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.

UPDATE
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.

2 thoughts on “Public Safety Services

  1. Erik

    I have noticed that the CH fire station has been closed down on several occasions. This is a major concern to me as a citizen of CH. Knowing that the first responding EMS unit is coming from Alpine or Highland, an 6-10 minute response time, is not sufficient if my child is unresponsive and not breathing. Keeping our fire station staffed to an adequate level is paramount. Looking at our surrounding cities that could potentially serve CH as our Fire and EMS (PG, AF, Lehi, possibly UFA), I do not know weather or not their response time would be any better. Question: If CH accepts a bid from another agency, will they staff the current fire station on Cedar Hills Dr.? Rumor is that American Fork City (high potential candidate for a bid) has a plot of land north of the temple that they plan to build a fire station on. Hypothetically, if they were to serve CH for fire and EMS, that location is no where near sufficient to have adequate response times to areas in the north end of Cedar Hills. Also noted, is that AF has a contract with American Fork hospital to handle their inter facility transfers of patients. That is a heavy volume of calls for their units that often requires an ambulance and an Engine to respond for man power. That leaves a first in to CH responding unit coming from mid town AF, a 15 minute response time with lights and sirens, at best. If my 4 year old’s are trapped in their room due to a fire, a 10-15 minute response time will not cut it. Now I know that sounds like a worst case scenario, and it is, but it could happen. Jenny mentioned a mutual aid agreement with our surrounding agencies, that is great, but at best, we are still looking at a 6+ minute response time from any of those agreements. Our current Fire Station on Cedar Hills Dr. is a perfect response location for anywhere w/in our city. Lone Peak District provides a fantastic service to Cedar Hills in my opinion. I understand there are staffing issues currently, but I am told that is a top priority for the new Chief. I think A couple important topics need to be considered before CH accepts a bid from another agency. 1. Can they provide a Full time staffing of 3-4 experienced personnel with at least 2 of those being Paramedics? 2.Will they be using the current fire station? If not, what will their response times be to all areas w/in Cedar Hills? If a bid comes in at or less than our current rate for Fire and EMS and CH leaves the District, The validation for leaving better have good reason and have the citizens safety in mind first. As a citizen of CH, I would not bat an eye at a tax increase to keep our public safety its highest priority and remain with the Lone Peak Fire District.

    — CH Resident and Lone Peak Firefighter/Paramedic

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  2. Jenney Rees Post author

    Hi Erik,

    First of all, thank you for your service as a firefighter and paramedic to our community. We appreciate the hard work that all of our public safety personnel provide to our city.

    I share your concern about the CH fire station not being staffed at times, especially as funding hasn’t been cut. However, even with the newly proposed budget, which is a 26.93% increase for Cedar Hills, there still would only be 2-3 personnel at the Cedar Hills station, which means we would still need to rely on either mutual aid or the Highland or Alpine stations to respond to a fire. It is my understanding that the law requires a minimum of four fire personnel on the scene before they are allowed to enter a burning building. Even with the proposed budget change, which is an overall increase of 30.24% for the entire district, the Cedar Hills station still wouldn’t be staffed to enter a burning building without the help of other teams. However, as I mentioned in my blog, the vast majority of our calls are EMS related and having 2-3 people at our station would allow them to respond to those types of calls.

    As for response times from other agencies, if we were to leave Lone Peak, that is something we will be requiring a response to as part of the bid process once we send out RFP’s. We do not want to put the safety of our residents at risk, so response times are critical. We will be looking at response times, whether some staff will be stationed in our building, and whether it makes sense to do a combination of both. There is a considerable amount of research that needs to be done before we can make a final decision. We welcome you and others to attend the meetings when the Council is reviewing the proposals we receive.

    As far as taxes, if you look at other cities of our size and similar general fund revenue, we already pay the highest percentage of our General Fund revenue for fire services than other cities of similar size and revenue. Because I can’t add an image to this comment, I’ve added a table at the bottom of the original post showing a comparison. Currently, 16% of our General Fund revenue goes towards fire/ems. With the new budget that is being proposed by Chief Thompson, that increases to 20%. Most of the expenses aren’t one-time expenses, so the budget will continue to increase every year. However, Cedar Hills isn’t growing and our revenue won’t keep up increases like this. While we must look at providing quality and essential safety services, we also have to determine what we can continue to afford.

    I realize that many of the cities in the table provided have a volunteer fire department, and I’m not proposing we go that route. But it does make sense at this point for us to explore all options available to us knowing that our portion of the Lone Peak expenses are increasing more than our General Fund revenues are increasing. This means that if we continue with Lone Peak, we either have to look at raising taxes or cutting existing services in other areas. Because this is the case, I feel the Council is being responsible by exploring all options.

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