Laila Powers: Low-lying fruit

Advertisement

To Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District and city of Steamboat Springs residents: 

On Tuesday night the City Council was presented with the results of a study it commissioned through City Manager Jon Roberts’ office. The report was submitted by a representative from the consulting firm and covered a wide array of topics and recommendations without taking into consideration the “human side” of the equation — our professional EMS staff.

As council member Sonja Macys said, “Aren’t we talking about the low-lying fruit here?” Her comment was in reference to a long discussion between council members and the consultant regarding a method of achieving cost savings by reducing the full-time firefighting and EMS staff with part-time workers and a reduction in overall force hours ... all to obtain a potential 9 percent savings.

As a medical doctor of 21 years, a Yampa Valley Medical Center Emergency Department physician and the Routt County EMS medical director for the past five years, I oversee six agencies, all medical transports and services rendered in the field and work with all of our agencies to ensure that protocols and procedures are current. I’ve also grown to know our EMT basics, EMT intermediates and paramedics along with their chiefs. I can say with confidence that our EMS staffs here in Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs are extraordinary. Their dedication to training, continued education, performance and sacrifice is in keeping with the highest standards of emergency medical services provided anywhere in the country.

It was in gross error to conduct a study such as the one that was presented to the City Council without having considered the impacts on our human resources. The very fact that recommendations were made without the consult of our city’s human resource department was, in my opinion, a major oversight.  

To our City Council’s credit, it voted in favor of tabling any action on the recommendations and instead is seeking more input and evaluation for its Feb. 7 meeting. I encourage all to attend that meeting. Hear firsthand how much our professional fire and rescue workers are compensated in comparison to other communities, and listen to views expressed by our rural fire district board of directors and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Ron Lindroth. It should come as no surprise that our volunteer-turned-professional staff of EMS/fire professionals here in Steamboat Springs receive 12 to 35 percent less pay then their counterparts in other mountain communities. The same is true of our less then half a dozen full-time professionals we have serving our community in the county.

During these difficult economic times it is imperative that everything is done to achieve maximum efficiencies, but I suggest to this community that any form of downgrading of force structure within our fire/EMS departments — when faced with a workforce that is already working at sub-industry standard wages — should be viewed as a very last resort. We cannot afford to lose these precious gems that have been cultivated throughout the years by knee-jerking for a 9 percent savings in the overall budget via the harvesting and subsequent disposal of “low-lying fruit.” 

Laila Powers

MD of emergency medicine and director of Routt County EMS

Comments

kathy foos 2 years, 11 months ago

I agree.Emergency services should never be cut to save 9 percent.Maybe give them 9 percent more instead?It makes no sense and these people should be properly treated and thanked.They are the first to serve us in any need.Certinally more trustworthy than those attempting to gouge out money from the emergency workers.Don't forget who takes care of the unfortunate locals and tourists when they are in hurt.

0

sledneck 2 years, 11 months ago

I believe the proper expression is "low HANGING fruit".

What SHALL we cut? Where CAN we save? How DO we remain solvent?

I always heard it was the far right that was the "party of NO". Sounds like the left only has excuses why NOTHING can ever be cut from what is now about a trillion dolar budget.

How about the 13- $900 snow-cone machines that the department of homeland security recently purchased? Would it be ok if we cut those?????? OR are they indespensible as well?

0

beentheredonethat 2 years, 11 months ago

It should come as no surprise that our volunteer-turned-professional staff of EMS/fire professionals here in Steamboat Springs receive 12 to 35 percent less pay then their counterparts in other mountain communities. The same is true of our less then half a dozen full-time professionals we have serving our community in the county.

If the steamboat personnel is dissatisfied they have the option of moving to higher paying communities. Good luck.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years, 11 months ago

Uh Sledneck, this is not about the federal government.

This is the city of SB which is not operating with a massive deficit and spending money on basically whatever it feels like such as Bike Town USA or grants to local businesses. Because of the tourism economy and the resulting sales tax, SB collects revenues as if it was a far larger city.

It is interesting that low hanging fruit was not things like Bike Town USA or giving money for summer concerts or so on, but essential government services.

0

valkyrie 2 years, 11 months ago

To beentheredonethat- yes the firefighters and paramedics do have the option to move, and many have and do. Steamboat fire is a training department, giving many members the training and skills to gain them positions on larger department that offer much higher pay. I encourage you to research the cost associated with training one firefighter/ EMT and do the math. It would make much more sense to ensure competitive pay to encourage longevity of employment then to continue losing these highly skilled people and training expensive rookies.

0

mtroach 2 years, 11 months ago

Save 9%, just what is the dollar amount vs money spent on marketing efforts such as BTUSA and main street. I would rather my city government fund firefighters and let the private sector step up and cover marketing.

0

sledneck 2 years, 11 months ago

Exactly, Roach.

Scott, OK some apples and oranges there. However, it is not "interesting that low-hanging fruit was not things like..." That's not interesting at all... It is par for the course! It is a purposeful, systematic approach to funding superfluous nonsense first, then comming back with their hand out asking for more money for those things which should have been the PRIORITY. And just look at how those things pull at everyones heartstrings.

Only other explanation: we have CHILDREN running the budget who really are immature enough to buy candy before medicine.

0

Joe Solomon 2 years, 11 months ago

I am having trouble with the logic around looking to eliminate our full-time EMT and firefighting personnel as a first-step in reducing the city's budget shortfalls. I look around and see money spent on a lot of non-essential items such as Howelsen (sorry - I love the hill and it's part in the community, but someone needs to step up and manage this correctly and profitably) and our larger-scale marketing efforts. This staff is an integral part of our community - from the services that they provide to their presence in and around town. The irony here is that these are already incredible underpaid positions as compared to ANYWHERE, and yet we ask these folks to perform their duties and not complain, which they do. Take a quick look at how much these folks are being paid, and you will wonder how they can take care of a family or even themselves on so little. This seems like another slap in the face to these folks who want to call Steamboat home and have accepted the reality of taking lesser pay to do so, all while saving our behinds whenever we call on them.

I plan on being at the next meeting, and I hope someone takes a much broader look at the overall numbers and asks some tough questions - and tries to put a value on what makes a community and the people and positions that matter here.

@beentheredonethat - that seems like natural reaction to an issue like this, but I would argue that it only serves to devalue such an important job here, and don't we as a community want the best personnel we can get in these positions? If my son needs an EMT at 2am, don't I want to know that we as a community have attracted the best people possible to help him? The "they can just leave then" approach only serves to do just that - make them leave, and I think that we are already seeing that here.

0

John St Pierre 2 years, 11 months ago

Here's an actual fact...80%+ of the Fire Departments in the USA are volunteer..... Many Hospitals operate EMS services.... which are in many ways surpass anything we have.... the EMS staff works in the ER while waiting for calls which means they sharpen their skills everyday andwe have a excellent unique opportunity here in the valley with our compactness and locally owned medical facility.

The other side of this is to look at Summit County & Lake Dillion Fire Protection District which covers most of the area except Breckenridge where except for a few senior level positions none of the paid personel live in Summit County. They commute from the East side of tunnel to work their 24hr shifts...... leading to a whole disconnect from the taxpayers the serve

I think if it were easier to become a volunteer... and to serve as a volunteer... that getting the community involved and part of the Fire services. That there would be a more personal face & involvement to our fire services.

It probably is an excellent idea to create a fire district and remove it from the city... with a Fire District, the board members would have the sole responsibility to oversee the fire district, thus more focus. This should also apply to the Fire Inspection services so there would be no conflict of interests... in todays envirornment... prevention is 99% of Fire Protection.

I can speak with some authority on this subject.... 30+ years in the Fire service on several large and small Departments (none of it here in SB)

0

BeCoolHoneyBunny 2 years, 11 months ago

Hey there J. Salomon,

FYI, Howelsen Hill will never turn a profit. Why so many people think this is a possibility is ignorant. Take a look at where the money goes.

Ski areas don't make profits off of lift tickets and hotdogs.

0

Kevin Nerney 2 years, 11 months ago

Fishcreek -- see my other post on the article that City Council discussed outsourcing the fire service. Between us we have 50 plus years experience, think we could fill Linroth's shoes if he goes to Montana?

0

Joe Solomon 2 years, 11 months ago

@BeCoolHoneyBunny - I agree that Howelsen will never turn a profit in it's current form. That is why Snow King in Jackson is/was up for sale as well - it just can't work. I don't think there is any disagreement on the value of Howelsen to our community (my son learned to ski there, and we love going), but moreso on how to effectively run it so that it breaks even (again, an issue that Snow King could not solve either). Maybe it is time for it to go private and off of the city's books, and let it be run as a business - I am not qualified to know how any of that can be done, but I would like to see the issue vetted (along with some other hard spending decisions) before we start cutting out essential city services.

One man's humble opinion.....

0

mtroach 2 years, 11 months ago

We need better priorities in city council. Stop the marketing of our town until we can pay for the services like plows,police, and fire. It seems like a no bringer to slow marketing efforts if they are drawing guests to a unplowed, unsafe, unmainatined, playground.

Everyone take the survey, and tell our repersentives how you want the $1 of city revenue spent.

http://www.steamboatsprings.net/budget_survey

0

BeCoolHoneyBunny 2 years, 11 months ago

Was Snow King supporting a large sports club in addition to being open to the public? I think not. Again look where the money goes. Add up the costs for Howelsen Hill that only go to supporting SSWSC.

To run a ski area is one thing. To run a ski area while also financially supporting it's main user is another.

0

BeCoolHoneyBunny 2 years, 11 months ago

Going "private" means that SSWSC has to cough up big bucks to play. Howelsen losses money every year because the city is paying for the SSWSC!!!!! No private business would take on that commitment.

0

sledneck 2 years, 11 months ago

Not many tax-payers would either... if they had a choice.

Roach is right. Prioritize... stuff we can live without should get funded last.

0

Joe Solomon 2 years, 11 months ago

@BeCoolHoneyBunny - hit the nail on the head. I know it is a sensitive subject, but not many towns would accept this type of funding responsibility. Hard argument considering the emotional tie in to SB and it's role in our community - so maybe time for a detached third-party to do an assessment and recommendation.

And agree with @Roach as well - time to prioritize with input from the community that this impacts.

0

mtroach 2 years, 11 months ago

It's also ironic that we pay for an airline tax but can't fund EMTs.

0

BeCoolHoneyBunny 2 years, 11 months ago

Remember, HH used to be owned by the SSWSC. They only gave it to the city so that the city could foot the bill for operations and infrastructure. The only option to privatize would be to give it back to SSWSC, which I assume is something the sports club doesn't want. The real option is to steadily ween SSWSC from city subsidies, something that is already being done.

Let's face it, Howelsen Hill without the SSWSC would be nothing like it is today, both for the good and for the bad.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.