After last Wednesday’s Police and Fire Candidate Forum, I can now report it’s pretty exhilarating to face a full house and respond instantaneously to a broad range of important questions about Denton in one-minute bites. There are many more Candidate Nights coming; I encourage you to check our calendar and come out. But none will be more important than the one we just had.
First responder departments make up 50 percent of the general fund budget. That’s uniformed police, fire, and emergency medical technicians who are there 24/7 to protect us in the most basic ways. So in this environment of coming tighter budgets, in a growing city, it’s challenging to be asked about future funding needs.
When cuts inevitably come–whether due to the tax freeze or moves in Austin to restrict local taxing authority–my priority has to lie with keeping the uniformed men and women trained, on the streets and on the trucks. With training comes efficiency and effectiveness–almost all our firefighters are also trained medics.
And as the populated footprint of the city expands, additional fire stations will be needed to keep response time low. When I visited firefighters in the new station number 2 on their first night there, they told me that damage typically doubles between four minutes and eight minutes. And with burglaries up 25 percent in District 3 from 2014 to 2016, we need more community policing, not less.
So are there any efficiencies to be had, or will we immediately have to cut libraries and parks and other areas to maintain our basic safety? This is where creative management experience in large organizations can really contribute. First, I’m determined to work with the new City Manager and City Auditor to streamline administrative overheads in every area. Reducing the number of high salaried Assistant City Managers, as the City Manager has done, for example, is a great start. It’s amazing what savings you can find when you’re methodical about assessing your organization chart. It’s about pushing the funds we already have closer to where it touches the citizens.
But you’ll also hear more from me in the coming days about a counterintuitive way to relieve some burdens on our existing first responder resources: a supportive housing first approach to the most hard core homeless population. Our EMTs and police know a disproportionate amount of their time goes to addressing a relatively small group in almost constant crisis, with frequent and expensive EMT rides and round trips through the local jail. Supportive housing first is a proven money saver for the community that will result in faster response times and shorter emergency room waits for everyone. And who are the biggest advocates?
Ask a first responder.