Shores ponders adding 13 more public safety officers
Fire safety consultants have recommended that Indian River Shores beef up its public safety staff by adding 13 full-time officers to avoid a downgrade of fire protection ratings that could cost homeowners more than a quarter-million dollars per year in increased insurance costs.
The staffing analysis was done in response to a warning by Acting Public Safety Director Capt. Mike Jacobs in February that the Town would soon be reviewed for fire protection standards and was in jeopardy of being downgraded.
Over the past three years, the Shores has offered retirement incentives to get senior officers off the payroll to save money, replacing them with per diem officers who are paid $18 per hour and receive no benefits. According to the Town budget, the equivalent of seven full-time positions is currently filled by these contract workers. Since 2009, the Shores has reduced its full-time public safety staff by 26 percent, down from 23 people to 17.
The major deficiency, Jacobs pointed out in February, is that instead of fully staffing the Town’s fire trucks and ambulances when they roll out of the station, the Shores scrambles officers from the field to meet up at the scene of a fire or medical emergency. Despite the fact that those officers may even get there before the fire truck or ambulance to begin assessing the situation or administering aid, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) counts how many certified personnel are on the truck when it rolls.
Typically, the Shores staffs with half the required personnel. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said 12 of the 13 additional officers would provide the optimum staffing level to maintain the level of law enforcement service currently enjoyed in the field, plus have three firefighters on the truck and two medics in the ambulance when it responds to a call. One additional floating officer would be scheduled to cover sick call-outs and vacation days for the department.
Stabe said that the consultant, Leonard Matarese, was set to meet individually with council members to go over the detailed results and field questions in preparation for Thursday morning’s council meeting. Matarese, a 43-year veteran of law enforcement, human resources and municipal management, serves as Director of Research and Project Development at the International City/County Management Association Center for Public Safety Management
The Town’s public safety personnel are triple-trained as police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Stabe said the town would look to recruit dual-certified officers and then give them a window of time to get whatever training they are lacking to round out their triple certification. Starting salary for a dual-trained officer is about $41,000 per year plus benefits, totaling roughly $65,000 per officer. Stabe said Acting Chief Jacobs may be able to find a few people who are already triple-certified, but that would not be the expectation for all 13.
“With benefits, we’ve estimated that, if the council members go with what the consultant and the staff are recommending, it will cost between $750,000 and $850,000,” Stabe said.
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, but Stabe said he is recommending the council consider a budget amendment for the current year to get the new officers on board as soon as possible, in an effort to head off any potential downgrading of the Town’s ISO rating of 4 on a 1-to-10 scale with one being the best. Budget documents state that the town was projected to have nearly $2.5 million in undesignated surplus funds at the end of September.
The Town’s total general fund budget for 2013-14 is $5.5 million, $2.9 million of that going for public safety personnel and operations and $1.1 million for public safety vehicles. “This would bring us back to 2011 levels,” Stabe said, referring to the 2011-12 budget year when the Town spent $4 million on public safety personnel and operations and nearly $300,000 for public safety capital expenditures.
A hike in expenses will no doubt be questioned, especially by Councilman Dick Haverland, who has consistently raised concerns about the Town’s fiscal management and pension obligations. Based upon his own research, Haverland said he had found the Town was in scant danger of being downgraded to a 9 or a 10 – low enough to significantly impact homeowner insurance premiums.
Councilman Tom Cadden, who has been on the council for more than a decade, warned Haverland that the consultant might very well say staffing was too low, putting the Town in a predicament if the council chose to ignore that data in favor of keeping expenses down.