Bang for the public safety buck
City seeks consultant to determine if police and fire services are being run as efficiently as possible
Last updated 4/22/2021 at 9:30am
CHENEY — City staff will be putting out a request for quotes from consultants to conduct an evaluation of Cheney’s public safety agencies — an evaluation that includes organizational structure, equipment and whether or not proper funding mechanisms are in place to support maintenance of police and fire services.
At the City Council’s April 13 meeting, City Administrator Mark Schuller presented an outline of what such a request would look like and what the city hoped to learn. The evaluation, which was discussed and approved by council during 2021 budget preparations, would review public safety operations, compare what Cheney is doing to other high-performing police and fire operations, look at best practices and identify any gaps in services.
The evaluation will look specifically at organizational structure, staffing and scheduling — particularly as it pertains to overtime — the latter being an ongoing discussion for years with both police and fire services. It will also examine equipment, with an eye towards possible efficiencies to be gained through a more regional collaboration with other agencies on equipment needs.
As an example, Schuller pointed to that fact that Cheney Fire Department has a ladder truck intended to be used in cases of fire at any of Eastern Washington University’s residential halls, the ADM Mill and the Grain Growers silo downtown. With large-scale industrial development taking place on the West Plains such as the new Amazon Fulfillment Center on Geiger Boulevard, Spokane County Fire District 3 also has a ladder truck at its Four Lakes Station, and Schuller said there’s the potential for three such units among area agencies.
At over $1 million fully-outfitted, Schuller wondered if this was an efficient use of area’s fire organizational funding.
The evaluation will also look at Cheney’s fire contract with EWU to make determine if the services provided by the city are proportional to what is being paid for by the university. The evaluation will also look emergency medical transportation services in Cheney, particularly what’s being provided by American Medical Response (AMR).
In November, contract negotiations between AMR and the Spokane County Ambulance Board – which represents most county agencies except the city of Spokane – nearly broke down over fee increases, something that nearly led to the cessation of ambulance services. The two sides reached an 11th-hour agreement on a one-year extension at the current contract pricing levels until a new agreement could be reached.
Given this arrangement, Schuller said the city wants to have options for ambulance transport should the current negotiations “fall apart, although we hope it doesn’t.”
Finally, the evaluation will look at funding streams and strategies for public safety to determine if they are adequate for providing “high-level of service for public safety and provide for community.”
“We just want to make sure we are running as efficiently as we can,” Schuller said. “We need someone from the outside to take a look, to see if there are better ways to run things.”
Schuller said the RFQ will be put out in local papers of record, as well as city staff contacting consulting firms directly that have provided such evaluations in the past. Staff will evaluate the proposals with criteria such as experience, qualifications and capabilities of the consultants; familiarity with municipal budgets including police, fire and EMS and “evidence the consultant can meet timelines and schedules.”
Councilman Paul Schmidt asked Schuller what the proposed budget for the evaluations would be and where the money would come from to pay for the work, tossing out a previously mentioned figure of around $50,000. Schuller said there is funding for such contingencies in the budget, but wasn’t sure exactly which fund folder they were in.
“I’m not sure what the cost is, I think it could be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000,” he added.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.