|Shared Services – Myth or Reality
Over the last several years, the buzzwords in government circles have been shared services, merger and consolidation. In these days of government inactivity on many levels, taxpayers wonder what is myth or reality. Usually taxpayers only know that their taxes are rising while our political leaders use the buzzwords in press releases and speeches.
Fire Districts are governmental entities responsible for the operation of a local fire department. It is composed of five elected Fire Commissioners who administer the fiscal affairs of the fire department. The Valhalla Board of Fire Commissioners want to let you the taxpayers know some of our ongoing efforts to share services among government entities in an attempt to save you money.
Before it was a popular and accepted concept to share services, the Valhalla Fire District and the Hawthorne Fire District joined forces in 1995 to share services and economize taxpayer funds. Seeing the enormous value of such a partnership, the Thornwood and Pleasantville Fire Districts joined the consortium shortly thereafter. The Board of Fire Commissioners has looked for ways to share purchasing services with other governmental entities to reduce costs. Among those items are:
- purchased diesel fuel from Hawthorne for fire apparatus at a State bid price;
- purchased regular fuel from the Town of Mt. Pleasant at a State bid price;
- purchased large ticket items such as thermal imaging cameras, gear and Scott bottles from the New York State Office of General Services;
- purchased electricity from the New York State Power Authority;
- sold surplus fire department equipment on e-bay through the County of Westchester’s Shared Services Project;
- purchased Cascade system (air bottles refill system) so that the fire district and neighboring districts could utilize for efficiency and cost savings;
- conducted professional telephone audit to reduce telephone lines and obtain better pricing;
- developed a uniform Elevator Key Policy with Town of Mt. Pleasant;
In addition, the four fire districts joined the National Safety Council so that the Defensive Driving Course could be taught to our apparatus drivers, saving the District on their insurance premium.
These are a few examples of shared services projects implemented by your fire district in cooperation with our governmental partners. We have attempted to save you money, but the cost of mandates on the fire service sometimes escalates. Safety and the taxpayers are our greatest concern. Since safety is paramount, we have had a dual alarm response agreement with the Hawthorne Fire District, for example, which operates Monday thru Friday from 7:00 am – 6:00 pm where manpower and apparatus are dispatched to alarms of fire in designated structures for quicker daytime responses. Over the last 14 years, over 808 calls have been handled in this fashion providing a quicker response to the residents of both Districts during daytime hours. Safety balanced by fiscal responsibility is always our goal. The fact that the Valhalla Fire Department is all-volunteer points to this goal as well. The Valhalla Fire District is all a volunteer Department composed of 70 extraordinarily dedicated members. For the year 2008 the membership contributed 13,542 personnel hours amounting to $379,717.68 in volunteer services. Alarms, drills, training sessions and house duties all require a large percentage of a volunteers personal time each year.
Government, while preaching shared services and cost savings does drive-up the bottom line each year. Whether it is the 10-year gear replacement ($2,500 per firefighter), replacement of Scott bottles every 15 years ($800 per bottle), personal breathing masks for each interior member ($375 a firefighter), or vehicle exhaust systems in each firehouse ($20,000).
For 2009, the Fire District budget on your tax bill showed a -3% decrease in your fire tax. This was only accomplished with our involvement with shared services and cost saving measures. The Board of Fire Commissioners will continue to explore ways to “share services”.