Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Cost Of Quiet

One of the downsides of the tide turning towards civility in the war on rowdyism -- albeit a minor one -- is the town treasury is taking a hit with those $300 noise/nuisance tickets not being issued.

Last year at this time (halfway through the budget) Amherst collected $111,793 in town bylaw fines while this year it's down 37% to $69,806.

Of course neighbors who value their sleep or the look of their yards on weekend mornings are not going to mind a bit -- especially since it's a pubic safety issue.

The Public Safety aspect (police, fire, dispatch, animal welfare) of town government is the largest segment of the town's operating budget (46%), but the lion's share is split almost evenly between Amherst Police Department at $4,767,221 proposed for FY16, and $4,466,729 for Amherst Fire Department.

So the $200,000 or so in annual fines collected is a drop in the bucket compared to APD's overall budget.  The Town Manager in his proposed FY16 budget is, finally, adding two police officers to bolster their enemic ranks.

Amherst Fire Department, on the other hand, will not see any additional staffing even though their calls have been rising annually at a rate greater than inflation.

Interestingly 75% of AFD runs are for Emergency Medical Services, as all personnel are crossed trained to either run into burning buildings or stabilize and transport sick/injured patients.

Unlike fire calls, the department does collect fees for ambulance services which is the vast majority of what they do.  The last few years that has amounted to over $2 million dollars annually, enough to fund half their overall budget (although Town Meeting, NOT AFD, controls how that money is spent).

The town has 5 ambulances but usually cannot staff them all

Two years ago in his FY14 budget the Town Manager predicted $2,195,723 in Ambulance Fund revenues, but due to a typically all-too-busy year the fund took in $2,533,728, or $338,000 in excess revenues.

None of which was spent to hire additional staff.


Anonymous said...

Like with speeding, drug lalaws,etc we should be smart enough to come up with a punishment for loud folks that does NOT reward the govt or police financially when the law is broken. This backwards.....we do not reward parents when their kids misbehave.

How about simply community svs. Community benefits and the police dont get a reward because someone broke the law....because that is the opposite of what they should get when the community is less peacefull. This encourages bad public policy by rewarding failure.

Larry Kelley said...

The fine money does not go into the PD budget, it simply goes into the General Fund. Just as $ paid for ambulance transport does not go directly to AFD.

Anonymous said...

Didn't you report recently that the town spent $100,000 on repairing a church window?

Priorities, much?

Who makes these decisions?

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if the lack of fines/arrests really have anything to do with the reduction in behavior or is it apathy on the side of the cops?

The true measure is the number of calls for service and how those calls were handled. My guess is that there a lot of "warnings" given or "unfounded" dispositions as opposed to fines/arrests which would be the reason for the decrease and not the reduction of rowdy behavior.

In my my day we called it "putting the blinders on". What you may be seeing is the direct result of understaffing of the public safety departments. They are now filled with burned out women and men lacking the energy to do such pointless and fruitless work (in their eyes). Its the typical damned if you do scenario.

I would not exactly shout this from the hill tops Larry. This is no victory.

Larry Kelley said...

Calls for service relating to noise/nuisance are down. And that has nothing to do with PD attitude.

Anonymous said...

Larry, these new hires to the APD, are they bolstering the department #'s, or are they replacing officers lost. I believe they have had three recent retirements, how do the numbers wash out? Thanks

Larry Kelley said...

A net gain of two, but still down three from 2006.

Larry Kelley said...

Anon 9:44 AM
The money for the stained glass church window came from Community Preservation Act funds (which is of course taxpayer money) but can ONLY be used for Historic Preservation, Open Space/Recreation and Affordable Housing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:44 am

You should know already who your Town Meeting members (24 for each precinct in town) are, who your Select Board members (5) are, and who the members of the Community Preservation Act Committee are.

They're all clearly displayed on the Amherst town web site. Democracy and accountability has never been easier.

So don't just come here and bitch. Look it up.

Without my defending it, the church window expenditure needs to be viewed in some context, including what the CPA money can and cannot be spent on, to be understood fully. But that would take time, your time, to fully understand. Citizenship is not like Civil War-era military service; you can't pay someone to do it for you.

My priority as a Town Meeting member is a new fire station south of town, to reduce response times in South Amherst.

Rich Morse
Precinct 7 Town Meeting

Anonymous said...

No new firefighters to staff the mythical south Amherst station? Guess they realize it would cost more in equipment and facilities too... Where's the budget for that?

And, it's what, a five minute drive from central station to Atkins. Talk about a proposed waste of money... Potential "time savings" of being "closer" are negligible when compared with the long-term cost. Not as many "at risk" to justify the need. Hell, how far apart are firestations in Springfield? I'll bet a lot further than 4 miles...

Watch Frozen. Let it go...

Larry Kelley said...

Against my better judgement (since I assume you're a troll):

The main issue of the new fire station is Central Station is exceedingly old and not fit for a modern day fire department (none of the aerial trucks even fit).

The main issue of staffing is the department is so busy (mostly with EMS) that one day soon there will be a major fire and nobody available to fight it.

And people (plural) will die.

Now go away.

Anonymous said...

I understand the argument that the central station does not accommodate "modern" equipment and a solution is needed. Further, you address a valid point on EMS calls tying up resources. However, the cost/benefit still isn't there.

Hire more EMTs, buy another ambulance, and change the batteries on your smoke alarms. Problem solved. You get out, EMTs can administer O2 for smoke inhalation, and the fire department will make it there in time to protect your neighbors house from burning down. A difference of five minutes, even 10, won't ensure the structure will be habitable again.

Wait, tie up taxpayer resources because you failed to maintain your home (chimney problems, overloaded/outdated electrical system, terrible cook, etc.) and it caught on fire. That should be the community's problem, not yours, right?

"...people (plural) will die." --Charles Darwin.

Larry Kelley said...

You don't know much about fires. Pray you are never in one.

But then, trolls are immortal.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Anon 11:47 am, we have genuine response time issues (as well as the staffing) to residential areas of South Amherst (e.g. Hulst Road), that include the time that must be taken getting out of a usually congested downtown Amherst. This was a subject of a extremely careful and thorough study and report to Town Meeting 5-10 years ago.

We need a new fire station either south or east of downtown. This is not a mythical problem. And, yes, it's more urgent than maintaining church windows or barn silos in Amherst, not that that has ever been the choice we've been presented with.

Please don't invoke Springfield as some model community when it comes to vital public safety infrastructure. I have some familiarity there. We should do better than that.

Rich Morse

Dr. Ed said...

Don't forget that 50% of all the traffic tickets (e.g. speeding) that BOTH the APD & UMPD write go directly to the APD. Look that up Larry, it isn't exactly an insignificant amount of money.

Also, it is misleading to say that "Public Safety...is the largest segment of the town's operating budget" without mentioning the fact that this does not include the schools and that at least half of the TOTAL budget goes directly to Team Maria's Minions.

As an aside, I find it ironic that people are willing to pay vast sums of money to educate people aged 5-18 (i.e. K-12) while concurrently screaming about the relatively small (net) amounts of money they pay because people aged 18-22 (i.e. UMass students) are merely being educated in town.

And unlike the K-12 students, UM students are paying for their education which means that while Team Maria's Minions are spending money which came from the Amherst taxpayer, some 5,500 UMass employees are spending money that didn't.

Anonymous said...

"Wait, tie up taxpayer resources because you failed to maintain your home (chimney problems, overloaded/outdated electrical system, terrible cook, etc.) and it caught on fire. That should be the community's problem, not yours, right?"


The same way that paying to house & feed the woman that puts aluminum foil on the walls/ceiling of her apartment to keep "the government" couldn't "steal" her radio reception -- and prevent her from listening to NPR. (I didn't have the heart to tell her who *provides* NPR in the first place.)

It has to do with who we are -- as a people and as a culture.

It has to do with the type of society we wish to live in and the values we place upon human life -- values which not all the world shares.

Anonymous said...

They always do.

Anonymous said...

Depending on time of day, traffic, and road conditions, response times from time of dispatch to arrival on scene to calls in South Amherst can be as long a 7-9 minutes. I personally had a response to Hampshire College during Monday's storm that in fact took 9 minutes. This is a VERY long time for someone having a true medical emergency. Also, given the fact that a typical house fire will DOUBLE in size every 30 SECONDS, it is an eternity if you have a fire in your home. In addition to this just as Larry mentioned, the central fire station was opened in 1931 and is no longer suitable for a modern fire department. The apparatus do not fit properly. Portions of the ceiling over the apparatus floor collapsed and only temporary repairs wee made. The apparatus floor had to be repaired recently a substantial cost because parts of it had significant cracking as a result of the weight of modern fire apparatus. A major roofing project was also recently completed as the flat roof over the rear portion of the building was in serious disrepair. There are a numerous other upkeep issues that need to be addressed. The bottom line is that the building is too small for the needs of the department and has been poorly maintained. The town can continue to dump money into an antiquated building for decades to come and deal with crisis after crisis that cant be budgeted for, or money can be spent up front for an appropriate facility foe a modern fire department. This is something that would have fixed costs that can be budgeted from one fiscal year to the next.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly this is not the biggest issue facing the fire department. Most of us would be happy to continue to make the current station work as best we can if it meant that funds would instead be spent on additional staffing. One of the posters in this thread suggests that AFD should hire "more EMTs". AFD does not employ EMTs. All of our members are firefighters, most are paramedics, and some are at the EMT-Intermediate level. There are no non cross trained personnel. What this means is that at our minimum staffing level of 8 (7 when the colleges are not in session), we can and do staff 4 ambulances. What this means is that when 4 ambulances are simultaneously involved in emergency calls there are no firefighters to respond to the next emergency. This happens multiple times every week and often multiple times a day. Although EMS calls do represent the vast majority of our calls, the other emergencies, including fires do not stop when the ambulances are out. This same poster clearly lacks an understanding of how residential fires work or how labor intensive firefighting is. The idea that a delay of 5 or 10 minutes "won't ensure the structure will be habitable again" is ludacris. More importantly, the poster fails to take into account those folks who may become trapped in their home during a fire. A delay of 5 to 10 minutes and fire apparatus that respond short of staff will certainly matter to them.
Folks, staffing matters. The town manager's assertion that staffing has been increased is inaccurate. Shift strength was increased by 1 firefighter, which is a drop in the bucket. This increase is only in effect when the colleges are in session. This minimal increase as well is the additional firefighters on weekend nights that has been made possible by funds from UMASS is achieved by the same pool of people working hours and hours of overtime. THERE HAS BEEN NO INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF FIREFIGHTERS AT AFD. Even on those weekend nights when there are between 11 and 13 firefighters on duty at a given time, as many as 10 can and often are tied up with ambulance calls for most of the night leaving as few as 1 to 3 firefighters available for any other incidents. The members of the fire department have and will always tried to "do more with less" but at some point it is not going to be enough and Larry's prediction may very well happen. The Town Manager does not seem to think there is a problem even though his firefighters keep telling him that there is. If you disagree with him I would strongly suggest that you contact him and tell him so. In addition, you should contact your Town Meeting Members as well as the members of the Select Board. You all have a right to decide how your tax money is spent. None of us want to see a tragedy happen. We have been sounding the alarm on this issue literally for years. These are not scare tactics. We are simply trying to inform residents of the situation so they can decide where they'd like to see their tax dollars go.


Anonymous said...

Opps..I forgot to sign my last two posts.

Jeff Parr