The cities of Englewood and Littleton staged a community forum Nov. 7 to get citizen reaction to an emerging study of potential cooperative fire and medical services between the Englewood Fire Department and Littleton Fire Rescue.
The forum at the Littleton Center attracted about 35 people and about half a dozen fire service personnel. During the public comment period, one person spoke in favor of the proposed merger in glowing terms, while two others were against the proposal.
A separate meeting last Thursday night was scheduled at an Englewood location and moderated by two consultants from an Oregon company studying the fire department operations.
The two cities announced in a news release last summer that they had jointly commissioned Emergency Services Consulting International of Wilsonville, Ore., to evaluate “the feasibility of shared services, including the possibility of joint management or a merger.” No decision has been made.
The Englewood Fire Department provides fire suppression and emergency medical services, has three stations and a staff of 51. Littleton Fire Rescue serves Littleton, Highlands Ranch and the Littleton Fire Protection District and has 136 on staff.
The ESCI consultants, Martin Goughnour and James M. Broman, moderated the meeting at the Littleton Center.
ESCI specializes in consulting services for the departments and various government entities. Goughnour is the senior vice president of the western region of ESCI, and Broman is a former fire chief turned ESCI consultant.
The Nov. 7 meeting included a PowerPoint presentation showing preliminary results of an ESCI study examining the management structures, community support, critical issues and personnel of both the Littleton and Englewood fire departments.
Neither copies of the PowerPoint or the study were made available to the public. The study is expected to be turned over to city officials in December and made public after that, Broman said.
It was not apparent from the material presented in the PowerPoint what a cooperatively managed fire and medical services department would look like, what it would be called, whether it would involve layoffs, or how much money would be saved if a merger took place.
“Littleton and Englewood have a history of working together. There’s a lot of evidence that cooperative arrangements are more efficient,” consultant Broman said. “The city wondered if they could be doing more.”
The factor driving consolidation is money. “The amount of money available to the cities has eroded, and the cost of doing business continues to go up,” Broman said. “The solution is either to reduce operations or combine operations.”
Goughnour said the consulting firm had collected 120 pages of baseline information on current operations, including the frequency of concurrent calls.
An independent financial analysis showed that revenue for fire and medical services had declined from $16.1 million in 2008 to $15.7 million in 2012, Goughnour said.
In the face of declining revenues, there are several common strategies: maintain status quo; create a fire authority; link up with an existing fire authority, form a fire district; or join another fire department, he said.
During the question-and-answer period, a couple of people asked about the impact on staffing and projected cost savings, but the consultants said they had not worked out staffing demands or the dollar amounts.
One member of the audience wanted to know who would provide service to the TrailMark subdivision in Littleton. He also wondered what happened to a previously commissioned study of merging with the South Metro Fire District.
During the public comment period, Littleton resident Pete Webb, a former member of the Littleton Fire board, said there were demonstrated efficiencies to be gained by a merger. “Municipal fiefdoms should end,” Webb said.
A merger can improve response time, save money and set an example for other cities, Webb said. He pointed to Edgewater, which voted to merge its volunteer fire department with the Wheat Ridge Fire Department.
Webb suggested a good name for a combined fire agency would be “United South Fire Authority.”
Another individual deplored the possible merger, based on the record of the joint Englewood/Littleton water and sewer service project. “It’s not going that well,” he said. “When does a city stop being a city? We need control of our budget.”
Another person also complained about the Littleton/Englewood sewage plant. “It was a $50 million expansion that wasn’t needed,” she said.
“I chose to live in Littleton, not Englewood. The government is here to provide basic needs. There are other budgets that need to be cut,” she said.
She was worried that a merger could mean forming another special district and adding another layer of expense without cutting existing taxes. “I have a feeling it’s a shell game way of creating another revenue stream.”
A joint presentation of the study results is to be scheduled in December.
Other cooperative projects between Englewood and Littleton include a regional sewer treatment plant and an animal shelter.