A few years back, I experienced some health difficulties that required the legendary 911 call. I was lucky. My wife was home. When it was apparent I needed help, she rushed to the downstairs phone and called 911. She explained the nature of the call and continued to talk to the dispatcher briefly. By the time she had hung up the phone, she could already hear the sirens. By the time she got back to the stairway, the fire department was already at the front door. She let them in and they quickly got upstairs to tend to me. By this time, I was very groggy. I was barely conscious. However, some things are instinctive. Even in my semi-conscious state, I knew I was in good hands. It was the professional voices and manners that let me know immediately I was going to be okay. At that point, the lights went out and I woke up the next day at Baylor Garland. I was dismissed a few days later with a brand new list of pharmaceuticals. I've been fine since. The memory I remember most vividly was the professionalism and care given by the Rowlett Fire Department EMT squad.
It should be clear I have a very strong opinion about our fire department. I believe it is the best in the entire DFW metroplex. I have had occasion to observe another nearby city's fire department in action at another emergency event. It only served to reinforce my opinion of Rowlett's fire department. Rowlett's response team was much better.
Tuesday night I attended a public meeting at city hall regarding the proposed bond election and it's costs. Contained within the proposed costs is the $2.6 million requested for the tower training facility for our firemen and police. I attended in an attempt to get some numbers to aid me in deciding how to vote on this issue.
I learned some good "stuff", and some not so good "stuff." Being an analyst, I try to justify everything with numbers. I will be the first to report that that doesn't always work. My problem with the training facility is that I can not assign cost/reward to everything that I see as beneficial. To an analyst like me, that's like not being dealt a full hand in a poker game.
I wrote the mayor and city manager asking for clarification of some of the cost/benefit issues on the training facility. As you will see, if you ask Brian, the city manager, what time it is, he will tell you how to build a watch.
Below is Brian's response in it's entirety.
Ron, here are our responses to your thoughts about the bond election. I apologize for not getting this back to you before last night’s meeting but wanted to make sure I had good data. Larry Beckham has indicated that he will post explanatory information about the bond election that he gets from the City so we will share information with him as well. In addition, just a note on our educational process, we have a four-page flyer that is about to be mailed that explains the bond election in great detail. April will be a very busy month. Staff has around 20 different meetings scheduled around the City to meet with civic groups, neighborhoods, and others to get that face-to-face presence. Finally, on April 23rd, we will conduct our first ever “Telephone Town Hall”. This has been surprisingly successful in other cities such as Frisco so we have high hopes that we will get a large number of people to tune in. I have responded below to the two main issues that you mentioned in your blog. Again, I want to thank you for your feedback. We really do want this bond election to pass.
Issue: New Public Safety Training Center:
Proposition #: #3
Project Title: New Public Safety Training Center
Total Project Cost: $2,631,050 (includes estimated cost of issuance of $51,050)
Projected Annual Debt Service: $192,360 annually for 20 years
Project Description: Hands-on training is one of the most important functions that public safety personnel need to become proficient at their job, which is to protect the community and property. This facility for the Police, Fire Rescue and Public Works departments, to be located on Schrade Road just west of Dalrock Road, will include a training tower, confined space and trench rescue training, SWAT training and even training for the Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT). This proposition also includes a design plan for the future Fire Station 2, which will be located on this site as well but funded out of a future funding initiative as well as funding to complete our technology fiber ring.
Just a few other notes. First, the new training facility will be used for police, fire and public works, including training that is not always easily available. Second, the scheduling of the Garland training facility is not dependable, its expensive, and requires backfilling stations with overtime since they cannot respond adequately from that location whereas being in Rowlett they could respond. This will save time and allow for training opportunities while technically on duty with greater frequency. Also, Garland charges us $1,500 per visit. We do “all department” fire training at least 9-12 times annually for all three shifts; therefore, that would be 27-36 events at $1,500 per event, or $40,500-$54,000 annually. While we don’t track how many times we’ve been bumped, it does happen often. For understandable reasons, Garland prioritizes their needs first. It is difficult to find convenient training times in their schedule that can accommodate all 3 of our shifts in a row. Third, the cost of overtime to provide this training exceeds the cost of the training. One day of training per shift results in about $2,220 per day. Again using the same schedule of 27-36 events per year, training overtime costs $59,940-$79,920 per year. The total combined cost for both renting the facility and paying overtime is $100,440-$133,920 annually. Finally, like Garland, we of course would rent our facility to other departments such as Rockwall, Sachse, etc. Even with Fire, Police and Public Works using this facility, there will be opportunities to rent it out to other agencies.
In the final analysis, the training facility represents $1,733,638 (including pro rata share of the cost of issuance) of the total public safety bond election cost of $2,631,050. The remaining amount will be for the design of the future Fire Station #2 and to complete our fiber ring. The annual debt service on this training facility from a twenty-year bond is about $126,749 (note: the total annual debt service for the public safety portion of the bond election is approximately $192,360). Therefore, sheer economics from the fire service alone would justify the expense. When you add in the additional training opportunities for police and public works, this facility more than pays for itself even if it isn’t rented out to other agencies.
Issue: Bonding Capacity:
Over the next 10-15 years, the City’s general obligation type debt (i.e. supported by property taxes) will dramatically decline (Chart One below). This is due to the fact that the City has not issued any major general obligation type debt since about 2006. This decline provides an opportunity to capture some of that capacity and issue new bonds without increasing the tax rate. For the bond election in May 2015, this “capacity” is rather limited to about $25 million or so; however, after May 2018, the curve will be steeper and, therefore, the City would be able to issue an even higher amount in future years without impacting the tax rate.
As a result, the City will have a level of future capacity that it could monetize in a series of three-year bond programs (i.e. 2015, 2018, 2021, etc.) and leverage that amount of freed up debt as shown hypothetically in Chart Two below. This is a similar scenario to having a vehicle that you are about to pay off. You have the opportunity to buy a new one or keep the old vehicle. The owner would evaluate how old and in what kind of shape the vehicle is before deciding what to do. In Rowlett’s case, our current needs just for alleys alone is $27.0 million but there is not enough bonding capacity to issue that amount today without increasing the tax rate. If you combine streets and alleys together, all of which need reconstruction not merely repair, our needs today total $72 million. Therefore, we are maximizing our ability to capture the freed up bonding capacity today.
Many thanks to Brian for his lengthy response. I now have more math to work with than before. My sentiments are with the fire department, but I still need justification.
I am going to come down on the side of the fire department. The "hard math" seems to be a little short, however the added benefits, breadth of training that would be made available, and ease of scheduling puts it over the fence for me. However, I do not like the $500 K for designing a future fire station. It should stay with the financing of the future fire station. Also, I don't like the location proposed. The training facility is not intended to be beautiful. It is intended to be functional. That's not exactly what you want to plop right in the middle of a residential area. I know the city already owns the land, but the surrounding land and structures around this location would suffer some devaluation if the facility is built there. That means all other taxpayers will have to make up the difference.
I would like to drop the $500K design fee for a future fire station and move the location to another site where other functional buildings are built or to be built, such as an industrial area, or a business oriented area.