Ventura Council approves additional funding for roving paramedic engine

by Richard Lieberman

The City Council held it’s regular meeting in Council Chambers on Monday July 23rd , featuring a presentation on Community Health assessment and Improvement Planning by Rigoberto Vargas, MPH, Director, Ventura County Public Health.

Among the agenda items the Council has approved $600,000 to obtain and operate a roving paramedic fire engine.

There seemed to be a lack of important information on what is driving increased calls for fire assistance in the city. The council asked whether there are more cost-effective ways to deliver services. The council also had additional questions on overall operations of fire systems within the city.

The council voted to approve the $600,000 by a vote of 4-2, council members Mike Tracy and Christy Weir voted “no” wanting more detailed information on how the department operates and whether operations could be conducted more efficiently. They had questions about the process, which Weir called “backwards” questioning why the vote was to allocate the funds first and return with an analysis of operations later.

After approval of the final 2018-19 budget, the council members directed the city staff to return with information on adding the three-person paramedic engine. After taking and approving the action a lobbying effort was conducted by members of the fire union, arguing that the increase in staff was necessary to respond to a growing number of calls in the city.

Normally the city prepares its budget based on inputs from city department heads who generally start with a list of requests weighed against priorities and available budgets. The council adopted the budget this past June.

“We have many, many competing interests and with limited resources, it’s important to have a logical, thoughtful process to allocate resources where they are most needed,” said Tracy. “I think what we see tonight is a reflection of our failure to follow the normal process, and I also think what we have before us tonight, the reason we have this before us tonight, is that it is union driven. “That’s something that happens between the city manager, department heads and staff and is signed off on by the city council” he added.

Council member Christy Weir wanted to know if other less expensive positions might be able to offer community outreach and public events, there fore freeing up firefighters for calls. There are “a lot of pieces in this puzzle and a lot of questions I still have,” she said.

City Manager Dan Paranick did not recommend funding the roving engine this year., he told the council at the meeting. Recently Paranick said he has been working with Fire Chief David Endaya and other members of the fire department to get a better understanding of its workload and other needs.

Paranick and Endaya have been working to provide a more precise and detailed picture of what is driving the service requests. They agreed to return with an update in three months.

Council member Erik Nasaranko requested more information on why calls are so high in Ventura compared to other locations. “I think we need this to be a more data driven process”, he said.

Council member Matt LaVere strongly supported adding the engine because fire staffing levels are “the same we had in 1988,” he added.

Endaya said he wasn’t sure what targets the roving engine could hit or by how much response times could fall because calls are so much higher now and there are more technological advancements available now like traffic pre-emption systems and GPS.

Two of the three positions authorized at the council meeting are in the hiring process , leaving just one open position. Once on board there will be 69 fire-suppression employees, he said.

In 2017 there were 16, 220 calls , and the department is on track to exceed 17,000 calls this year, Endaya said.

Other agenda items were: Designation of Voting delegate and Alternate for 2018 League of California Cities Annual Conference, introduced by: Mayor Andrews and the council confirmed the appointment of Deputy Mayor LaVere as the City’s Voting Delegate and Councilmember Weir as the alternate voting delegate.

2018 Ventura County Fair Contract was approved for security, traffic control and permit services in an amount not to exceed $216,000.

Transportation Grant Application for development of an active transportation plan. Council recommended to authorize City Manager , to apply for and accept up to $959,00 in grant funds from California Department of Transportation.

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