By Mallory Ragon
About 30 people wearing black Lee’s Summit Fire Fighter t-shirts attended the city council budget committee meeting this week. Dan Manley, president of the Lee’s Summit Fire Fighters Association, spoke on their behalf during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Manley gave a quick overview of the Lee’s Summit Fire Department’s (LSFD) activities and budgets in hopes of demonstrating that no part of their budget is expendable, and to caution the city against future cuts that could have negative effects on more than just a bottom line.
LSFD currently employs over 120 firefighters, in addition to civilian administrative and communication positions. They operate 7 stations, which serve Lee’s Summit, Unity Village and Greenwood—a combined community of more than 93,000 people. LSFD responds to an average of 9,000 calls annually, including advanced medical care and transport, hazardous materials, emergency and fire situations. Manley noted that this number was about 2,000 calls per year when he started 30 years ago.
They have a $15.5 million budget that Manley described as "very lean." Over 80% of that amount is dedicated for personnel costs.
"We know there are difficult decisions that need to be made," he said. But he encouraged the committee to consider that cuts to their budget could affect a number of issues, including the department’s ISO ranking.
ISO is an analytics company that rates fire prevention and suppression capabilities of communities. LSFD has a rating of "Class 3." The scale is 1-10, with 1 being the best. Manley noted that with some changes, such as efficiencies in fire department use of the city’s water supply and the addition of a third ladder truck, the LSFD could achieve a "Class 2" rank. Only 10 cities in the state of Missouri currently have such a rating. He cautioned, however, that budget cuts affecting the department’s prevention and education programs could cost points that might lower them to a "Class 4."
Such changes could have an effect on insurance rates of commercial property. Though it would vary by insurance provider and is difficult to predict, especially with a difference of a single point, the better the ISO rating, the lower the rate.
Outside the ISO rating, of course, education and prevention programs provide many benefits to the community. Manley described the department’s many visitors who come to express their gratitude for LSFD programs.
Councilmember Derek Holland sympathized with the department’s concerns but allowed that cuts will still need to be made somewhere.
"This is not a fun time to be on the city council," he said. "We’re in a position where we’re going to have to make cuts."
He told the firefighters, and all those watching Monday’s meeting, that the city was fortunate to have maintained and even offered raises to its employees in the years following the 2008 recession. With revenues remaining flat, and projections that aren’t optimistic, budgets continue to be tight, even for services integral to the protection of the city.
"We’re not going to cut the firefighter on the truck, or the EMT or paramedic on the ambulance," Holland said, "but we may have to cut administrative costs, or education services."
He also explained to Manley and the firefighters that while the committee greatly appreciated the group’s presence and all of their feedback, it’s not the responsibility of the city council to negotiate benefits and policy, but instead to set broad policy. Negotiation for those benefits will go through the city manager and his staff.
Manley admitted frustration that shortly after this discussion, the committee engaged in a very detailed discussion of health insurance benefits for city staff.
"It just seemed like they were contradicting themselves," he said after the meeting.
Manley thanked the committee for their time and assured them that their purpose in attending the meeting was just to provide them with information about their department and its services ahead of budget discussions.