A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
joint meeting with lake county city officials
December 7, 2010
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special joint meeting with the Lake County City Officials on Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 4:00 p.m. at the Leesburg Community Center, Leesburg, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Jennifer Hill, Chairman; Leslie Campione, Vice Chairman; Welton G. Cadwell; Jimmy Conner; and Sean M. Parks. Others present were: Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, Interim County Manager; Melanie Marsh, Acting County Attorney; and Courtney Vincent, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Cadwell thanked everyone for attending. He stated that when the BCC authorized asking the cities to meet and discuss fire and EMS services, many of the communities jumped to the conclusion that the Board wished to immediately consolidate all these services. He clarified that this was not the case, explaining that what the Board wanted was to start a dialogue with all involved in the delivery of those emergency services to look at how they were delivered and explore ways to provide the best service in the most efficient way possible through such possibilities as cooperation or consolidation. He noted that Lake County, as with other units of government throughout Florida, was facing unparalleled challenges from citizens demanding the cost of government be reduced, but not to the extent of negatively impacting the level of quality for primary services. He commented that the value of real property had fallen in the last two years and indications pointed to an additional reduction in property value for the 2011 tax roll, causing government income to shrink or millage rates to rise. He expressed that after 9-11, many thought public safety services such as police, fire, and EMS would be immune from budget cuts, but that has not been the case. He stated fire services in parts of Seminole County have been consolidated; Orange County and Orlando were using their fire departments to transport patients to hospitals; Marion County recently consolidated its ambulance services and fire department and was investigating having the Sheriff run those services along with his law enforcement operation; a citizens group in Volusia County recently hired a consultant to analyze fire and EMS services in the County and the consultant recommended several changes; and Sumter County has an RFP out to privatize ambulance services in the County, a move which if implemented would also affect ambulance service in Lake County.
Commr. Cadwell mentioned Lake County had 11 city fire departments, the county fire department, the Villages fire department and Lake-Sumter EMS providing fire, emergency medical response and ambulance services. He added that the county and cities were spending more than $45 million a year for those services. He commented that there were many ways those services could be run more efficiently without consolidation. He gave the example of the ten aerial/ladder fire trucks owned by various stations in Lake County which cost upwards of $750,000 to demonstrate the issue of cooperation on purchasing or standardizing equipment. He displayed a map on an overhead projector which depicted the locations of the trucks throughout the County, asking if they actually needed ten of them, if they were in optimum locations for usage, and stressing that those were the types of questions they needed to be asking. He stated that right now the County did not have widespread cooperation on purchasing, standardizing equipment or training. He said the questions they needed to be asking were if they should be using the same equipment at all stations, should they purchase equipment together for the best price, and should they create a central warehouse to prevent the maintenance of redundancy backups, emphasizing the importance of those questions in the efforts of cooperation. He remarked that when a loved-one was in need of emergency services, everyone wants to be provided with the best response money can buy, but the stations in Lake County were not doing that because they refused to cooperate with each other. He commented that the County’s system of mutual aid and automatic response was not only different between most cities but could also vary depending on which supervisor was working on a particular day. He then gave a PowerPoint presentation showing examples where two or more fire departments managed by different entities such as the county or the city were within responding range of a particular location, but many times the entity that was further away responded to the call. He used these examples to show places where redundancies could be eliminated and efforts consolidated to better serve the citizens as well as create a more financially sound option for the County. He noted there were many financial implications to working together, mentioning that if they used a countywide automatic response system it would be a possibility that stronger departments, or departments with more stations or personnel, might be called upon to answer more calls in other jurisdictions than would get answered in their area by others. He posed two questions to those present, asking whether they as a group were interested in looking at how to provide emergency services, to brainstorm ideas and perhaps come up with ways to change what they were doing for the better and how to move forward with any such ideas. He suggested they could form a Blue Ribbon citizen committee like Marion County, hire a consultant like Volusia County, or create their own committee of elected officials to study the issues and make recommendations.
Commr. Hill commented that she was waiting to hear what the cities had to say about the issue of fire and EMS services and how they would cooperate with each other. She stressed that the desire was to look at cooperation efforts and not consolidation.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that the purpose of the current meeting was to learn if there was an interest from the cities to move forward with investigating changes to the emergency services, noting that there might even be some who think that there is no benefit to changing the current system.
Commr. Campione remarked that there had been some good examples of how the system currently in place was not working, noting that they needed to look at the issue from the standpoint of providing the best service they could to the citizens regardless of which jurisdiction they resided in.
Commr. Conner stressed that they were not looking to consolidate services, that what they were hoping to do was eliminate the duplication to more efficiently deliver the services to the citizens in a more cost effective manner. He commented that he had thought Volusia County had a task force in place.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that Volusia County had a task force, noting that the task force had hired the consultant.
Commr. Conner remarked that Volusia County had a good model with their highly respected task force of non-political people who tried to bring a business model to the elected officials there.
Commr. Parks stated the meeting was about reducing duplication of services, suggesting beginning with little things they could do toward that goal. He opined that the panel of elected officials mixed with some Blue Ribbon panel experts and citizens together as a committee would be a good idea.
Mr. Jim Pierce, Town of Montverde Council Member, suggested the first thing they should do was to uncover all the duplications in each municipality, and then each entity should evaluate the quality of service as well as the duplicated service in each area to determine the difference in services such as differences in available equipment, personnel, and training. He stressed that while two fire stations might be close to a particular area, one might be better equipped to handle a particular situation, adding that the speed of response was only one aspect of the quality of service. He commented that he did not agree with the idea of a centralized warehouse for backup gear.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that he did not show station information such as whether they were volunteer, non-volunteer, or list the types of services they provided because he wanted to show just one area in order to initiate the discussion on where they could make changes. He mentioned an article in Fire Chief Magazine by Mr. Jim Dickerson, Assistant Fire Chief for Lake County Fire Rescue, which discussed issues similar to what Mr. Pierce described. He added that the example given in the article was there was no need for a hazmat team in the city if there was one in the rural area because it was needed more in the rural areas and would not be used every day in the city. He stressed that these were the types of redundancies they needed to discuss.
Ms. Melissa DeMarco, Mayor for the City of Mount Dora, commented that they needed to know the differences in equipment and training if they were going to attempt to standardize them, adding that they would also need to know the associated costs. She stressed that if a committee was assembled it would be necessary to have experts involved, and in order to ensure an objective view of necessary and redundant services, it might be necessary to bring in an outside party for inventory purposes. She stated she would be interested in learning what the cost or anticipated shared cost might be for bringing in a third-party of people who were experts in fire and EMS services who could take a complete inventory.
Mr. Tony Rosada, City of Mascotte City Council Member, stated that he did not think changing the current system of fire and EMS services was of value to the municipalities or the County at this point in time, adding that if there was a concern of duplication, they would be willing to take over the Bay Lakes station.
Mr. Robert Thielhelm, Sr., City of Mount Dora Council Member, remarked that he was a strong believer in centralized dispatching, both for police and fire, because it provided the best utilization of resources.
Mr. David Knowles, Mayor for the City of Leesburg, expressed concern that while consolidation might enhance services in some areas, it might degrade the quality of service in others. He then stated that elected officials should be included if a committee was created because they were going to have to answer to their constituents regarding any changes they decided to make.
Commr. Cadwell agreed that there needed to be some component of elected officials, noting that while they needed the support of the professionals, they also needed the political will to see their goals accomplished.
Mr. Peter Tarby, City of Umatilla Council President, concurred with Commr. Cadwell and Mayor Knowles, adding that consolidation was something the entire county needed to look at and urging everyone to get involved.
Mr. Pat Kelley, Mayor for the City of Minneola, inquired as to how the cost would be split if there was cooperation, saying they would be happy to cover parts of Minneola the County usually is responsible for but asking if the County would then give funds to the City to help with the costs.
Commr. Cadwell responded that a system would have to be established after it was determined what course of action they were going to take.
Mayor Kelley remarked that the joint participation agreements between the cities work well until one side needs to contribute more than the other.
Mr. Ray Goodgame, City of Clermont Council Member, mentioned there could be legal ramifications with cooperating if, for example, the fire unit from Clermont was called into Lake County for service and then they were not present when needed in Clermont. He noted that the City of Clermont had met with the County previously to incorporate two or three different neighborhoods into the city so they could better serve them, adding that they needed to have discussions such as where the cities or the County could do a better job in certain areas.
Mr. Albert Eckian, City of Eustis Commissioner, stressed that what was most important was the quality of service, noting that most of the calls received were not structure fires but rather medical or similar issues. He explained that because of this it was not only a matter of what equipment a station had or how quickly they responded, but what skill sets the responders possessed. He agreed with Mayor Knowles regarding the concern of cooperation causing ISO ratings to go down, adding that saving $25 on their ad valorem tax would do no good if they spent an extra $50 on property tax so it was important to remain sensitive to the quality of the service they were providing. He expressed his own concern regarding an example in the study Volusia County had conducted of its own emergency services where an ambulance responding to an asthma patient was rerouted to a heart attack patient and it took 32 minutes for another ambulance to respond to the first patient, adding that the asthma patient died. He stressed that there should be enough emergency responders out there to respond to both, that they should not have to risk the life of someone by their having to wait. He commented that since it was mostly medical calls they were responding to that they needed to let their emergency responders do what they were trained to do, and leave things like transporting a patient from a nursing home to a hospital to another service. He stated his thought they should start with a combination of firefighters and public safety directors along with some respected citizens and elected officials, noting that with all of their experience there was no reason to spend the money to hire a consultant. He mentioned it took no common sense to see they needed better coverage in north and northwestern Eustis.
Commr. Cadwell commented that Eustis was probably a poster child for enclaves, mentioning there were certain areas where there were a lot of enclaves which the County was responsible for responding to.
Mr. Michael Holland, Vice-Mayor for the City of Eustis, said that was one of the things he wanted to address, mentioning that all the cities needed to look at their enclaves. He agreed that Eustis was a poster child for them and it was a mess, adding that the County was responding well within the City on some things that Eustis’s emergency responders could answer to in minutes. He stated the cities needed to shore up their city limits and make sure they were functioning properly there. He commented that he thought they could save money if they looked at communications and purchasing, and that if they created a committee there needed to be professionals from the field, elected officials, and members of the community present.
Ms. Lori Pfister, Vice-Mayor for the City of Tavares, mentioned that the majority of the City’s budget was spent on the fire department, stating she was very proud of their fire department, but noting they would be irresponsible if they did not look at providing for the citizens the most efficient and qualified service possible.
Mr. Thomas Eppich, City of Mount Dora Council Member, stated he supported the idea of pursuing a study with the focal point not only being the elimination of duplication but also identifying ways to improve services already being provided. He commented that the discussion should be a combination of those issues and not solely concentrated on cost reduction.
Commr. Cadwell remarked that they all agreed they needed to do something different than what they were currently doing. He suggested the next step should be each person taking the discussion back to their respective city councils within a short time frame and return for a second meeting with a representative from each council and an inventory of what each municipality has.
Mr. Pierce commented that determining where the duplications were would be something they would need to do with a representative from the County. He explained that they would need to overlay the information regarding services from the cities with information on services from the County to see where any additional redundancies existed.
Commr. Cadwell agreed, responding they should go back and inventory what level of service each city was not providing so they could be compared against other cities and the County.
Mayor DeMarco expressed concern that should a committee be established where for example she represented Mount Dora and her fire chief was one of the technical representatives, Sunshine laws would prohibit them from speaking about emergency services outside of the committee meetings.
Commr. Cadwell replied that might be the case. He explained that they would start with an elected official each city council would choose and they would use the city council’s staff as their staff, who would bring the information back to the cities from the meetings before any formal committee was formed to give each council the information discussed.
Mayor DeMarco mentioned the committee needed to be a combination of technical representatives, elected officials, and citizens, but that her concern was that at some point someone would be barred by Sunshine laws from doing the job they need to be doing.
Commr. Cadwell commented that it would be one of the issues he hoped each commission would take a stance on, and it was up to them to decide the structure necessary to do the work, whether it be a citizen committee, hiring a third party, or elected officials.
Commr. Conner clarified that Commr. Cadwell was asking for each city council to discuss suggestions on how best to form what the next step should be.
Commr. Cadwell expressed that the worst thing they could do was have the meeting and not come out with anything concrete that they were going to move forward with.
Mr. Pierce mentioned that Montverde recently went through a one year ISBA, and it had been a similar format to the current discussion, adding that this particular method had worked well for the ISBA.
Mayor Knowles stated they would put the duplication of services on the agenda for their next meeting, which was on December 13, 2010. He said he would be happy to be the representative for his city, mentioning that regionalization, standardization, and consolidation were topics he would discuss with his other commissioners. He stated his technical representative would be Leesburg’s Fire Chief, Mr. Kevin Bowman. He remarked that they could put this together very quickly; that it did not have to take months.
Commr. Cadwell responded that it could not take months because they could lose credibility and people would think they were attempting to drag out the issue to get through another budget cycle.
Mayor Kelley stated Minneola had postponed that night’s council meeting until next week so they could come to this meeting, so they would have the duplication of services issue on their next week’s agenda for discussion. He mentioned their technical advisor would be their fire chief, and they could be ready for another meeting by January 1, 2011.
Commr. Cadwell commented that they would try to contact everyone’s city clerk or city manager to set a date that would be workable for everyone. He added that they need to move fairly quickly with this, because the next step was mainly information gathering.
Mayor DeMarco stated Mount Dora would be discussing this at some length that evening and it would be on the agenda for later in the month, so they would be ready by the first of the year as well.
Commr. Hill commented that if the goal was to eliminate duplication, it might be helpful if each municipality brought back an assessment of what personnel, facilities, and equipment they have so everyone can see.
Mr. Thielhelm stated it was his understanding in talking with Mount Dora’s fire chief that the County’s fire chiefs were already centralized to dispatch themselves, saying that if they already had an effective central dispatching system, then that was where they should start looking because that was where the cost savings really were.
Commr. Cadwell asked how many cities were still dispatching their own fire services. When no one responded he commented that the County was doing that now.
Mr. Thielhelm mentioned that centralized dispatching should eliminate duplication.
Commr. Cadwell replied that one of his earlier comments was that it was affected by the differences between departments as well as who the supervisor working that day handled things.
Mayor DeMarco stated Mount Dora would be willing to bring back by January 1st their inventory, current ISO standing, a list of personnel, duplication of services as identified by their technical representative, redundancies in services, and equipment and purchasing policies that they have already adopted.
Mr. Joe Saunders, City of Minneola Council Member, remarked that the first thing they needed to do was establish a standard of performance that everyone needs to measure to.
Commr. Cadwell questioned how many elected officials received calls asking why they were sending so many fire trucks and ambulances on emergency calls, answering that he received at least one per week. He stated that they would try to gather the information and set another meeting date.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 4:54 p.m.
welton g. cadwell, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK