Curiously, the campaign to create and fund a government-run fire department in Scottsdale, which has significantly relied on assertions that current private provider Rural/Metro is technologically behind, now is trying to justify a new department’s cost by calling for buying used equipment.
A prospective city budget unveiled this week by the pro-municipalization movement’s City Council champion, Councilman Bob Littlefield, calls for tax money to be saved by buying vehicles and radios currently used by Rural/Metro, postponing plans to buy laptop computers and staff scheduling software and cutting funds for office supplies.
Littlefield’s cost estimate for a transition from Rural/Metro to a new department is $3.3 million, compared to city financial services general manager Craig Clifford’s estimate of $6.4 million. Whatever the transition cost, Littlefield wants the city to dip into the city’s emergency contingency fund — which has never been used and thus has led to a high bond rating that keeps Scottsdale city property taxes low.
And yet the municipalization question is not one being asked in an emergency. As Mayor Mary Manross correctly surmised last week, there is no public safety crisis in Scottsdale. What voters face May 20 is a decision on the kind of fire protection they want, if they are willing to pay more for a change and at what peril to other city services and/or existing city employees’ jobs.
A number of questions arise from Littlefield’s proposal that cast doubt on its ability to solve the city’s current budget woes and afford the startup and annual extra costs of a new fire department. While Littlefield is to be commended for being the only council member so far to publicly state which of four municipalization options he prefers, his estimates include several assumptions that not even the firefighters’ union that’s behind the pro-Propositions 200 and 201 movement claims are necessary.
Littlefield would keep a 60-hour work week the union has opposed. His plan would delay the 20-year retirement pension that has been the cornerstone of the union’s campaign. And again, while the union has loudly and repeatedly called for computerized directional software and communications equipment on Scottsdale fire trucks, he calls for buying used equipment.
Along with Littlefield’s own words on the subject, on the facing page his council colleague, Councilman Wayne Ecton — who recently joined Littlefield in criticism of the Scottsdale Police Department — points out several more items in Littlefield’s plan that make it an unworkable budget blueprint.
Whichever option the council is to choose by its own deadline of May 6, municipalizing Rural/Metro’s fine service will cost taxpayers more than setting up another city agency. That’s why voters should spare their representatives the pain of choosing from a menu of layoffs, serious cutbacks in city services and/or jeopardizing its bond rating by voting NO on Propositions 200 and 201.
(Editor’s note: Since March 2002, Tribune Publisher Karen Wittmer, who is married to a member of Rural/Metro Corp.’s board of directors, has recused herself from any involvement in the direction or preparation of editorials, commentary or news coverage about Rural/Metro.)