Doing Less With Less. When Will We Learn? by ProQuest

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The depths of the cuts that this city faced were popular fodder for the local evening news so it was not difficult for the union president to find an authence in the local media. He lamented that the city was toying with the safety of its citizens and the careers of its employees, and that it was unfair of the city to ask the fire department to "do more with less." The union picketed city hall and other venues. Publicly, the fire department appeared obstructive and combative.

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									 TELLING IT LIKE IT IS                         >>>
 By THE FIREHOUSE® EDITORIAL TEAM



 Doing Less With Less. When Will We Learn?

                               B
                                     udget cuts. These words have become an integral part of the daily lives of most fire ser-
                                     vice leaders. As many municipalities, both big and small, are forced to deal with declining
                                     revenues and shrinking financial reserves, they are left with little choice but to cut into all
                               aspects of municipal operations, including public safety. This seems to inevitably set off a chain
                               of events that ultimately leads to the use of the ubiquitous yet equally aggravating phrase: “They
                               are asking us to do more with less.”

                                     Why do we dislike this phrase so much? First of all, it’s not really true. We have sat in on many budgetary discus-
                               sions with many elected officials in different cities and not once did anyone ever tell the fire department to cut its bud-
                               get and accomplish more. It simply didn’t happen. We have never encountered, and we don’t know anyone who ever
                               has encountered, a budget meeting where funds were reduced while raising performance expectations. We typically
                               impose that upon ourselves. We want to do better every year. We want to do more. The city is usually simply saying,
                               “You have less money.” Second, and the much larger issue, is the fact that we ask to be treated this way. Not directly,
                     mind you, but indirectly we ask for it. In the face of budget cuts, most fire departments do everything possible to maintain the
                     same or similar levels of service. What they ought to be doing is reducing services every time the budget is reduced.
   In the face of
                     A Tale of Two Departments
    budget cuts,           We know of a city that, in the fall of 2008, announced a 20% across-the-board budget reduction. In the weeks that fol-
                     lowed that meeting, the fire chief argued that cuts of that magnitude would mean that firefighters would be laid off, response
        most fire     times would suffer and ultimately someone would likely die due to the delayed response. The fire chief met with union officials
                     who were deeply concerned about the thought of layoffs.
   departments             The depths of the cuts that this city faced were popular fodder for the local evening news so it was not difficult for the
                     union president to find an audience in the local media. He lamented that the city was toying with the safety of its citizens and
  do everything      the careers of its employees, and that it was unfair of the city to ask the fire department to “do more with less.” The union
                     picketed city hall and other venues. Publicly, the fire department appeared obstructive and combative. Privately, they were
      possible to    scrambling to decide how they were going to maintain services. During the same time, nary was a word heard from the police
                     department. No interviews, no media campaigns, no picketing. One had to wonder whether the police department was doing
   maintain the      anything. At the next budget meeting, the fire chief explained that emergency negotiations with the union had yielded a short-
                     term plan of agreed-to furlough days and other salary and benefit concessions that, coupled with other line-item budget cuts,
same or similar      would let the department absorb the reduced funding “without any change to service levels.”
                           While these changes were not permanent, they were acceptable to the union to secure the jobs of the other firefighters until
levels of service.   additional levies could be passed in November 2009. The city manager applauded this presentation and congratulated the fire
                     chief for his accomplishments, and why shouldn’t he? The fire department had accepted the budget reductions and the citizens
                     would not feel any impact. This was a win-win for him. At that same budget meeting, the police chief explained that the budget
                     cuts were too severe to maintain the same levels of service as the city had previously enjoyed; therefore, the police would stop
                     responding to reports of petty theft. If someone were to call about a bicycle being stolen, no police officer was going to respond.
                     The caller would be directed to a voicemail system where they could report the details. Shoplifters detained by retail security
                     would be viewed as a civil problem between the business and the individual, not a criminal problem. Evidence technicians would
                     be made available only for felonies. The city manager asked questions, but ultim
								
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