Fire merger could save $60m

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jimmnn

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A study by South Metro Fire Rescue and the Parker Fire Protection District shows that as much as $60 million in tax dollars could be saved if the agencies merge.

The results of the extensive feasibility study, which were released March 26, indicate that full consolidation is not only operationally and financially feasible, but significantly beneficial.

Coordinated efforts by a single entity translate to cost savings and, more importantly, efficient emergency responses that could save lives.

The five-month study analyzed financial models based on best- and worst-case scenarios for the agencies individually and combined. It found that the districts could save between $25 million and $60 million over 10 years as a consolidated agency without increasing the tax rate or decreasing service.

The numbers represent an an overall savings of 8 percent and an average annual savings of nearly $6 million between the two departments. Careful fiscal management could produce even greater savings than projected, the study says.

The tremendous cost savings even surprised Chief Dan Qualman, who heads both agencies.

"I didn't have a number in mind, but we didn't quite think it would be as high as the numbers we're seeing," he said.

A merger could improve planning for future fire stations and create a more efficient layout, which in turn could reduce response times. It would enable management to consolidate firefighter training, information technology services, purchasing and capital improvements, all of which are now done separately. Consolidation would have a positive impact for special teams, such as dive teams and SWAT medics, for which training can be costly.

The 95-page study, conducted by Emergency Service Consultants Inc., is available online at www.parkerfire.org and www.southmetro.org.

Analysts also took a comprehensive look at staffing, salaries and benefits for employees, but officials are trying to minimize or possibly eliminate the need to downsize. There are key positions open with South Metro Fire Rescue, and the districts are evaluating the possibility of reshuffling existing staff instead of hiring new employees.

"We have tried to make it clear that we would do everything to keep the staff on that is here today," Qualman said. "They might not be working in the same job as before."

Parker fire and South Metro share a large border and already assist each other on many emergency calls. They already combined dispatch and fleet services, and decided to explore the potential benefits of full consolidation last October.

"We think it is feasible to merge these two organizations," said Jack Snook, president of ESCi Consulting. "There is substantial opportunity for cost avoidance through a merger by sharing resources, elimination of duplication, and more efficient placement of future fire stations."

Although the $40,000 study revealed major benefits for both agencies, nothing has been finalized. Officials are hoping to gain insight into the public's sentiment through community meetings scheduled for 5:30 and 7 p.m. April 3 at South Metro's headquarters on Mineral Avenue, just west of Chester Street. Meetings have also been scheduled for 5:30 and 7 p.m. April 9 at the Parker fire headquarters on Parkglenn Way, north of Plaza Drive.

A decision on whether to proceed with the merger could be made at a joint board meeting April 24 at South Metro's headquarters. The staffs of both agencies recommended forming a fire authority in 2009, and working toward a full merger in 2011. The newly formed agency, which would cover 176 square miles and have a staff of roughly 400, would begin to operate as one entity at the beginning of 2009.

If approved, the district would incur some costs associated with the merger, including transferring IT services, software programs and phone systems, but the long-term financial benefits outweigh the nominal costs.

There will likely be a new name for the entity if the districts merge, but there are no active proposals, Qualman said. No decisions have been made on the location of a future headquarters.

The merger could give the two agencies the financial depth to "weather economic downturns," Qualman said.

Financial models indicate that the fiscal outlook for each department is much stronger under a consolidated model than if they continue to operate independently, the study says.

"We were fairly conservative when doing our financial analysis," Qualman said, "and while such a merger is not without costs and risks, we believe our citizens could be well served by the combining of these two agencies."

Emergency Service Consultants Inc. identified possible threats to cooperative service, including arguments over turf, politics and money. But because the departments have maintained a cooperative relationship for several years, Qualman does not foresee any major issues.

"[The study] mentioned things that typically derail a consolidation, but I've got to say it appears that between the two staffs, there is a lot of energy there," Qualman said. "If we're going to do this, we can do a good job of it. We have worked together, trained together, and I think it could be pretty seamless."

303-663-7170 |cmichlewicz@ccnewspapers.com
 
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jfab

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So would it stay South Metro Fire?? Or would they come up with some other name. It makes more sense to me to keep South Metro as the name..
 

Toneslider12

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The word right now is that South Metro will be the name, they may go with something else if it gives a better descriptive name of the district. I've heard it will the be the "South Metro Fire Rescue Authority" until the departments look at a full on merger in a few years.

Some of the cost savings are likely going to come from closing Station 37. It's not official yet, but it's being discussed by the board and is also in the 10 year strategic plan.
 
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