As the Jefferson County Commission pared away at their budget attempting to fix problems long in the making, their blades hit hard on the fire and rescue services of the county. After a grueling meeting last week between the Emergency Services Agency Board and the Commission, with excessive input from the fire and rescue departments, the Commission just doesn't get it.
Their proposed cuts of 20 percent from the ESA which will likely result in personnel loss of paid medics and EMTs as well as their 12.5 percent cut to fire department allocations could well leave the residents at the mercy of longer response times or worse.
Leader of the group, Walt Pellish, had laid out a plan to cut ESA expenses that was met with great opposition. Backing down, the commissioner had to say that the ESA is responsible for decision making and that the County Commission only gives the funds. Micromanagement is not the role of the commission. They have yet to publicly admit they have no control over the individual fire departments who are volunteer organizations. But the group has done the damage with the proposed budget cuts. The cuts these agencies are taking will fall hard on the shoulders of the citizens.
We would suggest that there are other areas within the county budget that cuts can be made. According to their own "narrative" from the recently hired finance director of the county, the commission's cuts to their own budget line encompass all donations to nonprofits and some reductions in travel and supplies. They even plan to hire another person, who they say is necessary to collect upcoming ambulance fees. Really? Frankly, there are administrative positions being lost at the ESA who could do the job.
In fact, as Mr. Pellish stated at one commission meeting, staff needs to take on more responsibility, not less, in these hard economic times and positions could be lost. What happened to that philosophy? It has been placed on "contingent" agencies of the county, a term that takes on a nearly distasteful connotation when said by the commission and their finance guru. Somehow those "contingent" agencies like Fire and EMS, Economic Development, Parks and Recreation and libraries appear less necessary. Each of them will lose staff in this budget, not gain one more.
Perhaps rather than making dramatic cuts to those departments, the county should look at a more even, equitable stance on budgeting. While elected officials are required to be funded by the county, the majority of those took less than a five percent cut in these devastating times. Cutting a little more travel and supplies in some of these areas could well save the home or life of a county resident. Priorities need to be re-evaluated..