Citizen Minutes – City Council 4 December 2017 – Fire Unification

City Council Regular Meeting and Study Session         4 December 2017          Citizen Minutes

Karina Elrod and Patrick Driscoll were absent.

Public Comment

John Brackney asked council to appoint a council member or a representative to his Metro Energy group.

Pam Chadbourne expressed her concern over the recognition of four individuals that spoke about their organization more than they recognized the new council members at the last council meeting. These four individuals had contributed in significant amounts to Kyle Schlachter, Karina Elrod and Patrick Driscoll and her concern was the special access that this special interest group had to council. Even though it was well intentioned it was out of order. All groups should have equal access to address council. She said the city clerk tried to exclude an Englewood city councilmember from speaking right after the four men. She wanted council to consider their rules for access to council by groups, non-residents and citizens.

Consent Agenda

53-2017         Resolution approving an Intergovernmental Agreement between Littleton and Centennial for pavement rehabilitation on South Broadway between West Caley and East Arapahoe Road.

17-334           Approval of the November 21, 2017 regular meeting minutes.

Jerry Valdes moved to approve, Peggy Cole seconded and motion passed 5/0.

Ordinance on First Reading

35-2017         Ordinance on first reading amending Title 3, Chapter 9, Sections 3-9-1-2, 3-9-3-2, 3-9-1-10 and 3-9-6-12 of the city code, enacting and implementing standardized sales and use tax definitions.

Valdes confirmed that it was only definitions that were changing.

Steve Kemp, City Attorney, said correct. This would create standard definitions. There would be no policy change or increase in revenue or make something taxable that wasn’t taxable.

Carol Fey said she did not have any information on how TABOR would look at this change and asked, if there was no hurry, to postpone this to avoid a heavy penalty for making an error.

Kemp said there was urgency to pass this. The legislature had a tax study committee and they needed to adopt the new policy, as it was a matter of statewide concern. By adopting the new definitions Littleton will show their concern. There will be attention placed on cities and how they handle this. It is critical that we do this. Sales tax pays the bills and if cities do not demonstrate the ability to look a their tax code they risk having their sales tax authority impinged.

Fey said she did not see anything in state law that would allow the state to take control of a home rule city’s sales tax collection. She said Kemp’s reference to AZ (where he came from) didn’t have the TABOR seriousness that we have.

Kemp said 53 cities collect their sales tax. AZ had a similar structure to TABOR and the legislature can pre-empt home rule and sales tax has been declared a matter of statewide concern. How is someone supposed to know what’s taxable here versus there?

Kyle Schlachter moved to approve, Cole seconded and motion passed 4/1 with Fey dissenting.

36-2017         Ordinance on first reading amending Ordinance 21 Series 2016 known as the Annual Appropriation Bill for all municipal purposes for the fiscal year beginning January 1, 2017 and ending December 31, 2017.

 Schlachter moved and Valdes seconded to approve and motion passed 5/0.

 39-2017         An ordinance on first reading amending the 2017 Emergency Medical Transport Enterprise Budget. Schlachter moved and Cole seconded to approve and motion passed 5/0. (This motion increased the General Fund by the excess TABOR limit just approved by the voters. A transfer of $350,000 was transferred to the Property and Liability Fund.)

Reports

 Fey announced her first District 3 meeting to be held January 20, 2018 at the Wilmore Garden Center from 9am to 10 am. City Manager, Mark Relph, will be there to respond to questions from citizens.

She announced that great progress has been made with Mark Relph, Jocelyn Mills and Keith Reester to get pathways for citizens in Littleton Village to get answers to their problems.

She also said she has been asked questions from a lot of people about the timing of the fire decision. She did not believe any of the new council members had the information needed to make a decision.

Valdes asked about minutes for unrecorded council meetings. Where can citizens get the information about the meetings?

Relph said summary notes were available from the city clerk.

Regular meeting adjourned to a study session to discuss unification with South Metro.

Study Session

Debbie Brinkman opened the discussion by saying that going with Denver Fire was difficult with Englewood being the connection. Englewood is contracting services from Denver Fire and if they decided to go elsewhere in the future it would create a problem for Denver having to go through Englewood to get to Littleton. And, Denver does not provide emergency medical services (EMS). Denver’s mill levy is 12. 3 and that is more than South Metro. West Metro no longer has a contiguous border with Littleton so she did not see them as an option either.

Fey thought it was premature to drop any options and did not believe that she was “plugged in” as to what we would like to have. What is it that we want? We need to make that determination and then let providers respond. Right now we are only going to one store and buying what they have and we don’t know what we are trying to get – we want something better than what we have. But she didn’t have any idea what we have in the number of calls, the needed equipment or how many fire calls are car fires or false alarms. What percentage of the calls is EMS? We need to know – then go and shop for a provider. We need to look and ask what it will cost. We might be getting a better deal but we don’t know. She asked for a grid of requirements to help with the process.

Valdes asked what the rush was to join South Metro (SM) before Highlands Ranch has their election.

Relph said he was concerned about the timeline. The budget process starts in the summer and they need time to transition. They need direction from city council, as there are lots of complex issues and a lot of work to get done by July.

Chief Armstrong told council they did not need to make a decision – they just need to be prepared to provide service. He said the salaries alone for a stand-alone fire department would be $11,000,000.  The current assessed value in Littleton is $800,000.000 times the 9.25 mills is $8 million and we can go to SM for $8 million.

(The total assessed valuation of property in Littleton is $844,049,675 times 9.25 mills is $7,807,459. These numbers are from the Finance Director dated 9/7/2017. The same document states that we spend $6,592,976 for fire services excluding capital projects.)

 Relph said they did not have to pursue an election for contracting services – Littleton can carry the extra expense for a couple of years.

(Littleton has two ways to go – we can contract for services and pay SM from our General Fund but at some point SM will expect the citizens of Littleton to vote to join the district at SM’s current mill levy. Today that mill levy is 9.25. At that time the voters will have to approve a measure to tax themselves to pay for fire services at whatever the mill levy is for SM at that time unless the city is willing to permanently remove their 6.662 mills (or a portion of) and allow those mills to be transferred to SM to offset the total of 9.25 that citizens would have to pay for SM fire services. This has been referred to as Level 1 commitment (contract for services) and level 2 commitment (tax ourselves to be part of the district.)

 Highlands Ranch will have a May election to ask their citizens to become part of the SM district. If the voters reject the measure they ill go back to the voters but no matter what the partnership is gone. Highlands Ranch will not be coming back.

(Highlands Ranch Metro District funds more than just fire. At another meeting a SM board member said they would be absorbing the extra cost of fire but would have to go to their voters for an increase at some point.)

 Cole asked what the citizens want us to do. They need to know the costs of the change or going it alone. We need a way to find out what the citizens want.

Brinkman said they needed to narrow down their options even if they were to go to the community. She polled each council member to see if they supported the West Metro option.

Schlachter said his primary concern is the level of service – cost is secondary. He asked the Chief to address the geographical and cultural differences between the city and West Metro.

Chief said SM is his first choice. We share 80% of our boundaries and have the ability to provide efficient response. Littleton runs a fire based EMS and provides a higher level of care than the private ambulance companies and they are better trained than the private ambulance employees. Our fire fighters are professionals – they do this for a living. The private ambulance employees are always looking for another job, they have a higher turn over rate and it is just not the same level of care.

There’s a big difference culturally with Denver. We just don’t share much in the way of borders with WM and they would be severely challenged to provide service. SM is different; we have a relationship with them, we train together, they dispatch for us (that just happened very recently) we have worked together, and have the same CAD system. He did not know what Denver Fire charges but he could give council pretty accurate figures for the cost of his personnel and stations. He could provide that info for Fey. We will have to let people go if we go stand-alone.

Fey asked about whether they would use a consultant. Brinkman said they would get to that as a next step.

Karina Elrod (who was not at the regular meeting but was on the telephone for the study session) had a few questions.

  1. She asked for clarity on the formal separation – we need to go through an exercise of separation even if we go to SM because we were all making the move to SM independent of each other. Relph said there would have to be a look at the separation of assets, as an example, at least in the short term.

Kemp said they would work through those types issues as council works through the service issues. Schlachter asked if we go to SM would there be a separation agreement? Relph said the process would be simplified but they would still need to work through an agreement.

Elrod asked for an explanation of the difference between a contract for service versus inclusion. Kemp said the contract for service would be an intergovernmental agreement between SM and the city. The specifics of level of service, the cost and the length of the term would be spelled out. If the relationship does not work out in a few years we could be going through this whole process again. To incorporate into a Special District (SM is a special district) there would be a legal responsibility to raise revenues and deliver services. Once official SM will receive our property taxes and they will be responsible for delivering service. (Fire services would not be part of what the city does – the city would relinquish all authority and responsibility to SM for all fire and EMS matters.)

 Relph said they would have the potential to get into the details about the level of service with a contract and language could be included that states the consequences if they don’t meet their obligations.

Chief said when you contract for service the service is guaranteed. Inclusion goes to the voters. If the voters approve then there will be a redistricting of the entire SM area and we would get a representative on the Board of Directors.

Elrod asked if the LFPD and HR are going to their voters for a contract or inclusion.

Chief said if their ballot measure is passed the boundaries are redrawn for SM and they would get representation on the SM Board.

If the citizens voted to include Littleton into the SM district the district would redraw their boundaries and Littleton could be divided up into two different areas within the district. (In other words, Littleton would not be its own district.) Each district would have representation on the SM Board of Directors.

Elrod, still on the phone, thought we needed an understanding of the service metrics and the operational expectation and cost. Our responsibility is to clearly articulate the services we desire, understand how the operational end will work and then the fiscal reality as an approach for an RFP. The burden will be upon those entities answering the RFP – if West Metro determines that they can’t meet our needs then they will not bid. We need to go through the exercise to define the operational, and level of service we expect. She recommended an RFP process to give council the data and fulfill their responsibilities of a fair and equitable process.

Fey said she liked that idea.

Somewhere about this time Pat Driscoll arrived.

Relph said the RFP approach is problematic – there’s merit in defining the level of service but there’s too much complex information and he did not know how the other entities would respond and they would still need to negotiate the details.

Elrod disagreed but agreed that there will be a lot that they will not know but they still needed to be prepared for what they are asking for. We need to go through the diligence – we can’t negotiate without knowing what we want.

Relph said he thought council could establish the basics but there could be some responses that say take it or leave it. That is why a strict RFP process could be problematic.

 

Elrod thought that was part of what an RFP is intended to do.

Schlachter said they could craft an RFP to define what they want. West Metro and Denver can’t provide it – they can’t meet what we want.

Fey said they haven’t talked to Denver yet or looked at what we could do without EMS.

Brinkman said we know more than we think we know – there are geographical realities. We can send an RFP to them – they can’t serve us and we won’t go for their mill levy. She thought Littleton would be dependent on Englewood continuing contracting with Denver Fire and she thought that would be the lowest level of service. She didn’t know about an RFP.

Schlachter said he was looking at the four options. West Metro doesn’t share our borders so that eliminates them. Denver is geographically undesirable. That leaves two options – we have a standalone fire department or go to SM.

Fey talked about the possibility of using a private ambulance service for EMS. They keep their service vehicles out in the service areas ready to go. It is a different model than what we have now and a completely different way to look at our options. The majority of the calls are EMS and not fire. It is a missed opportunity to shift perspectives if we don’t look. It could be a solution.

The chief said there was an option to standalone with the EMS contracted out but he would advise the city council that the paramedics are not firefighters and they would loose firefighters that would need to be replaced.

Schlachter said how does it work with fire and contracting EMS.

Chief said it’s been done before and we moved away from that model. There were problems with billing citizens; response times and it didn’t work so that’s why a lot are moving away from the two-tier system.

Elrod said that’s an example of a requirement that we would include in an RFP.

Chief said he would advice council for an RFP to include – are you a firebase EMS? Can you work out of our stations? Maintain our ISO rating? Do your own transport all for $8 million? We know the answers to the questions already.

Valdes said if he were a betting man he would bet that we would end up with South Metro and does not need a consultant to tell us what we already know. He will trust the chief and he wants to get there as quickly as possible.

Driscoll asked the chief if fire calls going down over the years?

Chief said the EMS calls are about 70% when he was interrupted by Fey who said he said it was 80% at the meeting on Thursday.

The chief said that there is an increase in fire calls and EMS by 5% however they have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. The question council should ask is, can we handle the worst-case scenario? How would we evacuate the hospital? We know the answers to the questions already. Engines still respond to the EMS calls.

Brinkman says that an RFP is on the table – who is interested in an RFP?

If not, we need to remove some of these options.

Valdes says that consolidating fire departments is a trend on the western side of the United States.

Pat Driscoll asked if they have the financial analysis done by Highlands Ranch. Tiffany Hooten will be getting that for council.

Mark Relph suggested using evaluation criteria if we are going to pursue any alternative – it would serve as a benchmark. He is convinced that each of the entities is so different that a single RFP won’t work.

Fey wanted to know how Englewood made their decision to go with Denver.

The chief said one of the things they know regarding the contract when Englewood went to Denver is all of their firefighters lost their seniority and were required to go back to fire Academy.   Fey said they were compensated for that change too.

Brinkman said is very important how our employees are treated with the move. She doesn’t know if they need evaluation criteria if they go to South Metro.
Schlachter liked the idea of evaluation criteria be we have our answers so we would just be going through the motions. Driscoll said he agreed with Schlachter.   He felt there might be some concern – did the council do their due diligence.

Cole said it is important to have something official in writing what the expectations are. Schlachter suggested a fact sheet that the staff prepares? Cole say we need to make sure where we go with matches up with what we want.

Elrod said she was supportive of evaluation criteria or a requirements document – a document that they will carry with them throughout the process. Questions will come up over and over and we said this would be a fact-based decision and it needs to be a formal document.

Fey said we need to do it anyway if we do a contract for service or if we go out for a vote. We need to defend the ultimate decision we make.   She still wants to look at South Metro and Denver. Valdes had heard enough and was capable of making a decision. The schedule is driving the decision; staff is busy preparing budgets and he wants to get other things done so the answer is no. Brinkman concurs with Valdes and Schlachter – we already know the answers. It is good to have a criteria document but not now.  Valdes said he wants a very brief synopsis.

Brinkman ask councilmembers if they were ready to drop the West Metro and Denver options. Karina said no, Valdes said yes, Fey a no, Schlachter was a yes, Driscoll was a yes, and Brinkman was a yes.

Fey asked – did we just take a vote? Attorney Kemp said it was just a council consensus and it’s not binding. It’s an informal understanding.

Fey asked if we are only going to be looking at one option do we even need to go through the evaluation criteria?

Brinkman said we have a standalone option or South Metro – where should we go now?   Fey said a standalone and thought they should get an outside opinion on how that would work and what the finances would be.

Valdes said he has enough information that the standalone is not prudent. Schlachter said to focus on South Metro without eliminating the standalone option. Driscoll favored a partnership with South Metro. Cole said she’s not locked in.

Kemp said there would be a very detailed scope of services included. Cole asked what happens if they don’t meet the standards. Kemp said it would be part of the negotiation. Cole said there are practical issues. Elrod asked if the stand-alone was Plan B or are they just moving forward with Plan A? Brinkman said they could but she was not in favor of the standalone and it was not an option. Elrod asked – does that leave us with no Plan B?   Brinkman said there was no Plan B – not now we need to put all of our energy into a strong negotiation with their partners.   Standalone is always there if it falls apart. Fey asked if the partners were going for inclusion and Brinkman said we don’t need to do that – we have more options that are partners.

Valdes asked if we don’t like it do we take the fire department to go home? Kemp said at that point we don’t have partners –the partners have been in negotiation for six months and we are just starting.   Schlachter said they were in this situation due to the lack of listening by the previous council – everything he’s hearing is SM is the only viable option. Driscoll said there were a lot of smart people at the Thursday meeting and this is the only viable option and then he asked if we would own the land under our stations and would we own our stations?   Kemp said some we do and some we don’t.

Relph will proceed with the direction provided by council and we will know pretty quickly what our position is. Elrod said it behooves them to move through the discovery phase quickly – the sooner we can get through the due diligence the better.

 

 

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