For the last 40 years, the ISO has been grading community fire departments across the country. Insurance companies use the ISO ratings to establish the insurance premiums for community homeowners and businesses. In essence, people either pay local taxes for fire protection or pay higher premiums for insurance protection. Skimp on dispatch, firetrucks or waterlines, and insurance premiums go up. A community’s ISO rating is significant, as officials are well aware.
In the Sunday, Jan. 6, edition of the Journal-Gazette, it was reported that the leadership of the Fort Wayne Fire Department, Fire Chief Biggs, reported to the City Council that $39.85 million is needed to run the department in 2013, representing over a $1 million increase compared with 2012 spending. According to a graph in the JG article, the department’s spending has ballooned from $30.74 million in 2006 to $38.55 million in 2012, a 20 percent increase, yet more funding is apparently still needed.
Fire Chief Biggs’ grim portrayal of the city’s fire protection future is troubling and doesn’t add up: “We could be forced, at some point in time, to cut back stations,” “when we ride short, we compromise the safety of our personnel and the community,” and finally, “We just can’t commit the way we once did.” Our ISO rating of “3” has remained the same from 2006-2012, yet Biggs is proposing a $9 million increase for 2013 compared with 2006 spending?
A 0 percent increase in real fire protection, and 20 percent increase in funding in the same time period creates, at a minimum, a perception of fiscal mismanagement. Before a perceived budgetary hole is patched with additional tax revenue, perhaps the prudent thing for our City Council to do might be to provide the same level of funding of 2012 for 2013, and direct the City Auditor’s Office to complete a fiscal audit of the department to determine if efficient and effective financial accounting practices are being met. With a track record of continued increase of spending with no appreciable benefit, hitting the panic button on public safety is all too easy and should be viewed with a dose of fiscally conservative skepticism.