M I N U T E S

Joint Elected Officials

Eugene and Springfield City Councils

Bascom-Tykeson Room—Eugene Public Library

100 West 10th Avenue—Eugene, Oregon  

APPROVED 1/27/2010

 

December 7, 2009

Noon

 

PRESENT:

 

Eugene City Council:    Mayor Kitty Piercy, Mike Clark, Jennifer Solomon, Betty Taylor, George Poling, Andrea Ortiz, Chris Pryor, Alan Zelenka, George Brown, members. 

 

Springfield 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.

 

ABSENT:

 

Springfield City Council:   Christine Lundberg, member.

 

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. 

 

 

1. 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  He noted that the fifth recommendation in the Agenda Item Summary had included outdated language and asked that they refer to the language in the report, on page 2.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 Handy.

 

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 problem.

 

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 the road.” 

 

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 Rural.

 

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 state.

 

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 Front.

 

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 more exploration. 

 

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 something. 

 

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. 

 

 

2. 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 will.

 

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 consideration.

 

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 councils.

 

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.

 

(Recorded by Ruth Atcherson)