I N U T E S
and Springfield City Councils
Room—Eugene Public Library
West 10th Avenue—Eugene, Oregon
City Council: Mayor
Kitty Piercy, Mike Clark, Jennifer Solomon, Betty Taylor, George Poling, Andrea
Ortiz, Chris Pryor, Alan Zelenka, George Brown, members.
City Council: Mayor Sid Leiken, Hillary Wylie, Dave Ralston, Terri Leezer,
Joe Pishioneri, Fred Simmons, members.
Board of County Commissioners:
Peter Sorenson, Faye Stewart, Bill Dwyer, Rob Handy, members.
Lane Rural Fire/Rescue District:
Pete Holmes, Kevin King, Ray Brown, John Baxter, board members.
Springfield City Council: Christine
Board of County Commissioners:
Bill Fleenor, member.
Lane Rural Fire/Rescue District:
Larry von Moos, member.
Also present were County
Administrator Jeff Spartz, Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz, and Springfield City
Manager Gino Grimaldi; Captain Randy Groves, Eugene Fire & Emergency Medical
Services Department; Chief Dennis Murphy, Fire & Life Safety Department,
City of Springfield; Chief Dale Borlund, Lane Rural Fire/Rescue District.
Board Chair Peter Sorenson
convened the December 7, 2009, Board of County Commissioners meeting.
Board Chair Pete Holmes called
the meeting of the Lane Rural Fire/Rescue District to order.
Mayor Sid Leiken called the
meeting of the Springfield City Council to order.
Mayor Kitty Piercy called the
meeting of the Eugene City Council to order.
AMBULANCE TRANSPORT FUNDING
Commissioner Sorenson stated
that the materials for an item that would not be discussed, regarding the Metro
Plan work plan report, were included in the packets. He requested that the elected officials review the report.
He also wished to thank the staff for all of the agencies for the work
that had gone into the organization of the present meeting.
He asked the fire chiefs to speak to the first item on the agenda.
Eugene Fire Captain Groves
stated that the issue had been discussed widely among the elected officials.
He wanted to review the report and recommendations that had come out of
the work of the Ambulance Transport System Joint Elected Officials Task Force.
He noted that the fifth recommendation in the Agenda Item Summary had
included outdated language and asked that they refer to the language in the
report, on page 2. He asked the
members of the task force to speak to the recommendations.
He said the task force had included Eugene Councilors Andrea Ortiz and
Mike Clark, Springfield Councilors Dave Ralston and Hillary Wylie, Lane Rural
Fire/Rescue District President Larry von Moos, and County Commissioner Rob
Councilor Ortiz thanked the
chiefs and staff for the time they had put into the report. She said the issue was concerning to her because the
ambulance service had been able to pay for itself at one time and could not now
because of declining revenue. She
understood that Medicare reimbursements were declining.
Capt. Groves confirmed this.
He said the reimbursements had been declining and would decline by
another 10 percent in urban areas and 20 percent in rural areas in January.
He underscored that Medicare was already compensating the ambulance at a
rate that was between $200 and $400 per call, which was not even at the
break-even point. He indicated that
the departments were looking for short, medium, and long-term solutions to the
Councilor Ralston considered
this to be a difficult issue, given that there were certain services the public
believed they were entitled to and had paid for already and this was one of
them. He averred that ambulance
service was a core city service. He
felt that the first three recommendations should “certainly” be looked at.
These were recommendations that all three jurisdictions be prepared to
provide some support for the service from general fund money, that the Cities of
Eugene and Springfield authorize initial steps toward a merger of the two fire
departments, and that more sustainable funding options be explored.
Regarding the third recommendation, he observed that the funding options
included a fire service district or a levy.
He noted that Springfield already struggled with two levies, one for fire
and one for police. He underscored
his support for a merger of the two fire departments.
Councilor Wylie stated that the
task force had held a number of bimonthly meetings and had considered all
aspects of the issue in as much detail as possible.
She said they had reviewed the complex material and tried to come up with
ideas to solve the shortfall. She
stressed that the task force had worked the recommendations carefully with the
information available to them in mind. She
reiterated that if Medicare and Medicaid paid just what it cost for ambulance
transportation, the jurisdictions would not be experiencing a shortfall.
It seemed to her that the jurisdictions needed to be as frugal as
possible and this would mean that the fire departments should merge and that
they should work on the development of a proposal for a fire district “down
Mr. King said Lane Rural was a
special district dedicated to providing fire and rescue services.
He noted that they did not distinguish between fire rescue and ambulance
service, which was why the district did not hesitate to commit general funds to
the service. He stated that because of being a special district, the
general fund revenue could only increase by 3 percent in a year, but expenses
were rising at a rate that was closer to 15 percent which made it challenging to
continue to rely on general fund support to maintain their service.
He related that they had looked into consolidation with other fire
districts locally and this could be of potential help, but it would take a
similar amount of time to do this as it would to form a new district.
He noted that to put a fire district into place would take approximately
three years. He believed that if
they had a more comprehensive solution, countywide or regionally in Central Lane
County, they could potentially solve the problem.
Commissioner Handy thanked the
members of the task force. He had
found the process to be informative. He
also thanked the fire chiefs and the presidents of the two unions for
participating in the conversation.
Councilor Clark thanked the fire
chiefs and their staffs for their participation, as well as the other elected
officials. He believed the
recommendations they had arrived at were a very good way to address the
challenge presented by an ever decreasing reimbursement.
He said the seven recommendations prioritized the service and set out the
clear expectation that ambulance service was a core service that the general
public expected the jurisdictions to provide, even if this meant applying some
general fund support toward it. He
thought the recommendations would provide them the opportunity to make the
operations more efficient and to move forward with new innovations that would
help to address the challenges at hand. He
hoped that everyone could support the recommendations.
Commissioner Sorenson wanted the
seventh recommendation, which suggested that the public ambulance service
provider agencies to continue to lobby the Oregon Legislature and United States
Congress for larger-scale long-term solutions, to be reworded. He wanted more nuance. He
did not like the word ‘lobby’ and preferred to say that they needed to
“educate them on the effects of their current state and federal policies” on
the local jurisdictions. He also
wished to clarify that Lane County would not provide any general fund support
and the first recommendation should pertain only to the two cities and Lane
Capt. Groves explained that the
first recommendation pertained to the units of government that represented the
three service providers. He
believed it should be of concern to the Lane County Commissioners that all of
the local ambulance service providers were experiencing the same challenges, as
were all ambulance service providers across the country.
Commissioner Sorenson asked what
the other service providers that did not participate in the task force were
doing to address the problem. Capt.
Groves replied that they were watching the task force and were interested in
what the elected officials would do to take the next steps, as was the whole
Mayor Piercy understood that the
general fund support was intended only as a short-term solution to the funding
shortfall; in the long-term the public would be better served if ambulance and
fire services were supported by a combination of fees for services, Fire Med
membership fees, and some form of dedicated tax support.
Capt. Groves clarified that the
recommendation for the short-term general fund support was in recognition that
the establishment of longer-term funding mechanisms could not be accomplished in
the short-term. He added that the
ambulance service for the City of Eugene was projected to be approaching
$900,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011.
Commissioner Dwyer thanked the
task force for their work. He
considered it commendable that the jurisdictions were willing to look at
consolidation. He said the problem
in the past had been who would “rule” a consolidated district.
He was happy, though, that the recommendation appeared to be a real
effort to consolidate. He remarked
that the problem with a public service district was that the people already felt
they were paying taxes for these services and would perceive the district as a
second tax for the same services. He
said the concept of consolidation was sound because it reduced administrative
costs. He underscored his feeling
that the public would accept consolidation but would not accept “paying
twice” for services.
Councilor Ralston said the
intent was not to double charge, but to find out what the funding shortcoming
was and to figure out what a fair taxing system spread out over Lane County, if
that was the model they ended up using. He
believed that to do so could free up general fund money to be spent on something
else. He pointed out that if
everyone in Lane County subscribed to Fire Med, the problem would be solved.
Councilor Ortiz wanted to ensure
that the Joint Elected Officials (JEO) accomplished what they set out to
accomplish. She wanted to move on
the fourth and sixth recommendations, which sought to enhance and expand the
marketing of Fire Med subscriptions and to move work forward as rapidly as
possible regarding provision of a regional mobile health care system with a
report to elected officials by the end of 2010 respectively.
She thought the seventh recommendation could move forward with the
suggested language change and including that they would use the United Front
lobbying effort to convey their message. Regarding
the first recommendation, she had already made a motion in the City of Eugene to
look at how general fund dollars could be accessed and used in the short-term.
She said the City of Eugene would need to have a work session to discuss
the fifth recommendation, which sought to have the City of Eugene and Lane Rural
analyze the possibility of reconfiguring the boundaries of the county’s
Ambulance Service Areas (ASA), because a change in the ASAs would have financial
impacts on the City.
Eugene Councilor Poling thanked
Councilor Ortiz for taking the lead on the work and said she had done “an
incredible job.” He agreed that
the seventh recommendation could be reworded to assign it to the United Front to
“educate and lobby” on the issue. The
only recommendation that gave him pause was the third one, in regard to finding
more sustainable funding sources. He
recalled the time he had worked for Lane County, during which only one of
numerous serial levies that had been put forward had passed. He related that the levy had passed to augment funding to law
enforcement, but the Board of Commissioners had taken the exact amount of the
money passed in the levy out of the funding for law enforcement and placed it
elsewhere. He advised the elected
officials to be careful when putting forward serial levies or special districts;
they should be researched thoroughly. He supported Councilor Ortiz’ recommendations on all seven
of the items before them.
Commissioner Stewart thanked
everyone for their hard work. He
observed that though Fire Med was only $52 per year, it could be considered
expensive by some people. He
wondered if there would be a way to set up payments.
He also wondered if one area they could lobby for would be for Medicare
to pay the Fire Med costs.
Commissioner Stewart asked Mr.
King if something could be done to reduce the 15 percent cost increase.
Mr. King replied that the increase was primarily attributable to
personnel costs. He said
firefighters wanted Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) and health care costs had
increased dramatically. He added
that a 15 percent increase from year to year had become the norm.
Capt. Groves echoed this.
He said they were also experiencing an increase in uninsured people who
were unable to pay their bills due to the economic downturn.
Commissioner Stewart commented
that it might be easier to pay $10 per month.
Councilor Ralston pointed out
that a person could sign up for Fire Med insurance when being picked up by an
ambulance for transport.
Councilor Clark looked forward
to the opportunity to help support more Fire Med memberships.
He supported the sixth recommendation.
He believed that they could fundamentally change how the response system
worked. He was not ready to
“state flat out” that he was in support of creating a special district.
He said this was why the wording in the first recommendation indicated
that they were in agreement that ambulances provided a core service, that no one
wanted to cut the service, and that they were willing to provide some support
from the general fund. He
underscored that this was why they wanted to indicate the willingness to study
the idea of a district and to be educated about what could be possible.
Eugene Councilor Betty Taylor
opined that if ambulance transport was a core service, there should be national
health care. She averred that
because it was a core service, the funding should come from the general fund.
She said they needed new sources of revenue and they needed to be more
creative in looking for them. She
expressed concern that a special district would be more removed from the people
and would be “too much to keep track of” for citizens.
Eugene Councilor Zelenka
ascertained from Capt. Groves that the fire department had received no general
fund contributions and had been solely supported by fees for service through an
enterprise fund since 1981. He said
the projected deficit could change; the numbers were analyzed from month to
month and lately ambulance usage had been down.
He stated that the ambulance service had been stable and it had not been
impacted until the federal Balanced Budget Act had been enacted in 1998.
He said it had been further exacerbated in 2003 by the Medicaid
Modernization Act. Reserve funds
had been exhausted. He stressed
that they had adjusted their model a number of times in an effort to reduce
and/or avoid costs. He noted that
they had brought in a private provider for non-emergency transport.
He added that they had not put any money into the Ambulance Replacement
Fund for the current year because of cost-cutting efforts.
Councilor Zelenka considered the
recommendations to be “pretty generic.”
He said Eugene was facing a $7.5 million deficit and it was going to be
challenging to balance the budget. He
favored exploring more sustainable public funding options but he was not in
favor of forming a special district. He
supported an increase in marketing for the Fire Med subscriptions.
Regarding the fifth recommendation, he shared Councilor Ortiz’ concerns
about the potential cost impact a change in the ASA would have.
He also agreed that the seventh recommendation should include the United
Mayor Piercy understood that
Councilor Ortiz had suggested moving forward on the fourth and sixth
recommendations. She noted that the
JEO had been working on the economic summit and on creating more jobs, which
would add revenue to the general fund. She
thought they should take the rest of the recommendations back to their
individual jurisdictions for further consideration.
Mayor Leiken thanked the task
force for their work and, in particular, Councilor Ortiz for her leadership on
this issue. He noted that
Springfield Fire Med had launched an ad campaign that underscored the cost
difference between an ambulance ride and a Fire Med subscription and asked if it
had generated results. Springfield
Fire Chief Murphy responded that they had seen a five percent increase in
subscriptions since the last ad campaign. He
said they were now working on a fundraising campaign meant to close the gap
between the current economic conditions and the future economic conditions.
He related that the greatest market penetration observed nationwide was
48 percent. He advised them not to bet on doubling the membership.
He stressed that they were enthusiastically pursuing an increase in
membership and they intended to keep doing so.
In response to a follow-up
question from Mayor Leiken, Chief Murphy said “virtually all” ambulance
transport services across the country were engaged in this type of conversation.
Mayor Leiken believed that the
public was mostly unaware that ambulance transport services were experiencing
financial difficulty because they believed their taxes were paying for it.
He said until the issue resonated with the public, they could be
challenged to get this message to the elected representatives in Washington,
D.C. unless the United Front could join with American Ambulance Association, the
fire chiefs, and the unions and “put a full court press” to stress that
Congress needed to take care of the Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement issue.
Eugene Councilor Pryor commented
that it was “too bad” when a policy discussion had to be driven by money.
He observed that at one end of the continuum they had to determine how to
prioritize limited resources and at the other end they needed to determine what
optimal level of service they should provide and at what cost.
He agreed that they should move the fourth and sixth recommendations
forward because he felt that it would keep the momentum going.
Commissioner Dwyer said they
needed to be creative. He suggested
that they consider issuing multiple year subscriptions for Fire Med, for one
thing. He observed that the tax
forms had a box to check to give a deduction to the democrats or republicans and
suggested that they see if it would be possible to allocate such a deduction to
Fire Med. He thought this could be
lobbied for at the state level.
Councilor Ortiz, seconded by
Councilor Clark, moved to approve recommendation Nos. 4 and 6 as is; No. 5 to be
approved with the words ‘upon direction of the Eugene City Council’ added to
it; No. 7 worded to indicate that the Joint Elected Officials would work with
their respective agencies to use the United Front to educate representatives
about and to promote support for long-term stable funding of Medicare
reimbursement for ambulance transport.
Councilor Ortiz acknowledged
that the first recommendation regarding the use of general funds as a short-term
funding solution would need to be worked out by the individual jurisdictions.
She did not want to leave the meeting without having made any progress,
however. She noted that the task
force had discussed privatization of the service and determined that it would
not be prudent to give up the jobs the cities had and that raising rates was
also not an option they wanted to discuss given how expensive it already was.
Mayor Piercy suggested, given
the time left in the meeting and the agenda, that the JEO say as a group that
they believed the seven recommendations were worth pursuing and then refer them
back to the individual jurisdictions for their buy-off.
Eugene Councilor Brown said they
had not discussed the recommendations at a Eugene City Council work session.
He could not support the second, third, and fifth recommendation without
Councilor Clark agreed with
Councilor Ortiz – the JEO should move something forward.
He reiterated that the task force and staff had spent many dozens of
hours studying the options in order to put the recommendations forward.
He said if they could not approve the recommendations, then the body
should move to accept the recommendations.
Councilor Taylor felt that the
word ‘accept’ was sometimes turned into the word ‘approve.’
She thought they should move on to the next agenda item.
Councilor Zelenka offered a
friendly amendment to accept the recommendations and to refer the seven
recommendations to the three jurisdictions for further discussion and action.
Councilor Ortiz accepted the friendly amendment.
Councilor Ralston underscored
that the task force had spent four hours twice a month working on the report and
recommendations. He likened this to
having the Planning Commission do the leg work on a planning issue so that the
council would not have to delve into it. He
believed that the recommendations were stated vaguely enough that it would tie
no one’s hands. He supported
moving the recommendations forward to the next step; the JEO should accomplish
Mayor Piercy called for a vote
of the Eugene City Council. The
council voted unanimously, 8:0, to approve the motion.
Mayor Leiken called for a vote
of the Springfield City Council. The
council voted unanimously, 5:0, to approve the motion.
Mr. Holmes called for a vote of
the Lane Rural Fire/Rescue District. The
district board voted 3:1 to pass the motion, with Mr. Brown dissenting.
PROPOSED MERGER OF FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Chief Murphy stated that the
departments were before the JEO to recommend a functional consolidation of the
Springfield and Eugene fire and rescue departments.
He explained that the employees of the two cities would still be employed
in the same way and a system that crossed geo-political boundaries had already
been in place since 2007 and had operated daily without incident.
He cited training and the fire marshal’s office as examples of areas in
which consolidation could mean cost reductions.
He related that they had engaged a consultant, brought this before the
Eugene Chamber and the City Club, and had convened public forums to gain input
the potential consolidation. They
had heard a lot of support for beginning the process in order to determine
whether a merger was something they should pursue.
He stated that because of the vacancies that already exist and the
anticipated vacancies, some major functions would be done under the direction of
Eugene and some under the direction of Springfield; they were seeking joint
leadership on the merger. He noted
that the suggested timeline was something the elected officials could modify at
Chief Murphy pointed out that
maintaining the current vacancies would save $600,000 in FY10/FY11 and $850,000
in the following fiscal year. He
said if they failed to deliver the savings, this would be evidence that the
merger was not working well. He
stressed that they were only recommending that they initiate the process, with
phase one serving only to analyze and develop the proposal.
If there was a phase two, which was a plan to implement the merger, it
would be at the direction of the elected officials.
Councilor Zelenka felt a need to
discuss the proposal in a City of Eugene council work session as they had not
engaged in this conversation yet. He
was not prepared at the present meeting to say yes or no.
Councilor Clark agreed that it
would take future study at the City Council level, but he believed the merger
was a good idea from what he had learned so far through the task force work.
He thought making people safe with the money at hand would be an
efficient use of resources. He averred that the Three Battalion System was proof positive
that the first “baby steps” had worked well.
He was willing to move it forward.
Councilor Taylor said she would
support a motion to refer the merger back to the individual city councils for
Springfield Councilor Leezer had
a lot of faith in the fire captains and everyone who had worked hard on this
proposal. She observed that the
joint effort in the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission (MWMC) had
worked well. She supported whatever
they needed to do to move the proposal forward.
Springfield Councilor Pishioneri
supported a merger. He had a few
reservations, but acknowledged that the Three Battalion System had worked well.
He said he would like to see a merger occur but he would want to closely
monitor it by the week or month to understand the implications and benefits.
He expressed some concern about the “hundreds of years” of experience
the two departments were losing through attrition. He felt that if the merger did not work it would take a lot
of resources and time to replace those individuals.
Capt. Groves said his department
was holding some critical vacancies open and Springfield was realizing some
vacancies and all of them would need to be filled one way or another.
He stated that the vacancies were also creating the opportunity to give a
merger a shot, adding that if they would not be making a recommendation they did
not believe would be beneficial.
Councilor Poling supported the
recommendation “100 percent.” He
indicated he would reluctantly support a motion to send a merger proposal back
to the individual councils for further discussion.
He felt that they were hearing the result of indepth thinking by people
who had years and years of experience. He
believed they would pass up a great opportunity if they did not move forward on
a merger, given the present circumstances. He hoped they would continue to allow the fire units some
level of participation in the discussion, if it was referred back to the
Capt. Groves noted that the
unions had been involved in the process and both the International Alliance of
Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the American Federation of State County and Municipal
Employees (AFSCME) had weighed in on the proposal.
Councilor Ortiz thought it was a
good idea to discuss a merger. She
had some concerns about the net effect and felt they needed to hear from a
bigger part of the community. She
was not “100 percent certain” she could support it and wondered if it was
something they should take to the voters. She
was concerned that people were not aware that this was happening.
Capt. Groves cited several
examples of municipalities that had merged departments, including one in
Clackamas County which had been in operation in excess of 20 years.
Springfield Councilor Simmons
supported moving forward with the merger. He
had asked questions of both Capt. Groves and Chief Murphy regarding possible
indirect public works costs and capital fund issues on buildings and equipment,
as well as a full and complete explanation of what could happen if there was a
compression issue. He said the
firefighters were respected “on both sides of the river” and did a great
job, but they needed to ask questions about how the per capita costs would be allocated and how they were allocated in
the other models Capt. Groves cited.
Capt. Groves said they had tried
to put this information into the templates, but it was difficult to build a
budget before the model for the merger had been decided upon.
Eugene Councilor Solomon
supported “this opportunity.” She
averred that the elected officials would be doing their communities an
“enormous disservice” to not follow through.
Councilor Ralston called it a
“no brainer.” He said it
presented an opportunity to save needed general fund dollars. He felt there were only two options – to either authorize
consolidation or to authorize the City Managers to take the initial steps toward
consolidation. He wanted to move
forward on one of those two options.
Councilor Wylie noted that Chief
Murphy was retiring in June and this added some pressure to move forward.
She had spoken with both of the chiefs and a union representative and all
of them had indicated strong support for the merger.
This had eased her reticence. She
understood that the City Managers could move forward with Intergovernmental
Agreements (IGAs) that would put the merger together piece by piece, and would
allow them to “test the water” and not fill some of the vacant positions. She underscored that this was a way to save $1 million and
pointed out how much the JEO hated to go to the voters for more money.
Councilor Pryor felt that the
Three Battalion System had worked very well.
He had heard some sentiment in the room that the operations had become so
efficient that it had gotten ahead of the policy makers.
He said the policy makers needed to work as fast as the fire agencies
had. He agreed that the elected
officials needed to discuss it more and to seek more input from the community.
He supported Councilor Zelenka’s suggestion to do this.
Mayor Leiken stated that
Springfield City Council had engaged in initial conversations with
representatives of the Springfield Fire & Life Safety Department.
He thanked both fire chiefs for their work, calling it “true
leadership” and “thinking out of the box.”
He said the concept for the merger was valid, especially given that it
was based on the Three Battalion System. He
had heard support from the firefighters and from their leadership.
He was prepared to move forward on this.
Mayor Piercy expressed
appreciation for the work that had gone into it.
She averred that as much as she cared about the money savings, it was the
provision of services she was most concerned about.
She wanted to talk to the community in order to hear from them what best
thing could come from a merger and what they were worried about.
She said they needed to listen to the questions about what they would be
losing and what essence of the communities they might lose.
Capt. Groves said they had tried
to garner this kind of input in their nine public forums.
He related that people were supportive in general and he, personally, had
received no negative feedback about the proposal.
He said the fire and life safety services between the two communities
lined up “perfectly.”
Commissioner Sorenson remarked
that they could look for other efficiencies in roads and transportation and in
law enforcement and corrections.
Councilor Zelenka thanked the
Chiefs. He noted that the Eugene
City Council was talking about the ambulance service in January and requested
that a discussion of a potential merger be placed on a work session agenda.
Councilor Zelenka, seconded by
Councilor Clark, moved to accept and forward the report and recommendation to
the Eugene City Council for a work session and action.
The Eugene City Council passed the motion unanimously, 8:0.
Councilor Pishioneri, seconded
by Councilor Ralston, moved to authorize the City Mangers to take initial steps
toward functional consolidation with follow-up reports to determine the future
direction of it. The Springfield
City Council passed the motion unanimously, 5:0.
Commissioner Sorenson adjourned
the meeting of the Lane Board of County Commissioners at 1:54 p.m.
Mayor Piercy adjourned the
meeting of the Eugene City Council at 1:54 p.m.
Mayor Leiken adjourned the
meeting of the Springfield City Council at 1:54 p.m.
Board Chair Pete Holmes
adjourned the meeting of the Lane Rural Fire/Rescue District at 1:54 p.m.
by Ruth Atcherson)