Growth has Surprise Fire Department planning for future

This is another in a series of stories on the Surprise Fiscal Year 2020 budget. This week we look at the Surprise Fire-Medical Department.

By Jason StoneINDEPENDENT NEWSMEDIA

Surprise Fire Chief Tom Abbott knows his job is on the clock every day.

After all, just a few minutes could make the difference in saving somebody’s life.

But those precious ticks of the clock could also determine whether Mr. Abbott and his crew are doing a good job keeping the community safe.

“We need to obviously get there as rapidly as we can,” Mr. Abbott told the Surprise City Council earlier this month, during his department’s budget presentation. “We continually evaluate the response data. We do it on a daily basis … to make sure we are in fact in a position to provide the best service.”

It goes without saying, city leaders are not only concerned with the costs of funding the Fire Department, but how effective it is.

“The timing is so critical how quickly you get there,” Mayor Skip Hall told Mr. Abbott. “We want to make sure our city is safe, and the response times are good.”

Projecting the future

The Fire Department is the among the largest departments in the city with a budget reaching nearly $24 million.

Most of its revenue (87 percent) comes from the general fund, but the ambulance fund and other minor sources help make up the rest.

Like the Surprise Police Department, most of the expenditures for fire goes to personnel costs.

But unlike police, which usually needs more staffing to fulfill its needs, fire officials usually benefit most from building more stations and acquiring newer assets like trucks in order to get to emergencies faster.

The next big project on the table is the construction of Fire Station 304, which will be along 163rd Avenue between Happy Valley and San Ysidro roads. The $8.5 million facility will be the largest firehouse in Surprise once it’s completed in June 2020.

It will serve nearly 18,000 homes in the growing Rancho Mercado and Copper Canyon North developments. Mr. Abbott said population density projections show the need for a latter company, an ambulance and a battalion chief at the firehouse.

Station 304 will replace a temporary facility fire officials have been using most of this century.

Taking a Toll

Another project on the books is Fire Station 308, planned for the southeast corner of Litchfield and Cactus roads. That $7 million facility, which would be near the Wastewater Treatment Plant, 11401 N. 136th Ave., is expected to open in May 2022.

Officials are hoping Station 308 helps relieve other houses, especially Fire Station 305 at 15517 N. Parkview Place.

It will also help serve the 780-acre master planned community Toll Brothers is developing near Cactus Road and Cotton Lane.

“As different developments come on line like Toll Brothers and a few others that are breaking ground or have broken ground, we’ll need to provide a quicker response in those areas,” Mr. Abbott told the Council.

Models for the Toll Brothers homes are expected to open in January with a grand opening scheduled for January 2021.

Staffing for Station 308 will likely be done in stages, instead of hiring more than a dozen people at once.

“It’s better for us to stagger them in and reduce some overtime cost in the interim period until we actually get the station in service,” Mr. Abbot said. “That will go a long way in assisting us meeting some of our response time goals to get to somebody.”

Mr. Abbott said another fire house (tentatively Fire Station 309) could be close behind with a potential need for it around 2023 to 2025.

“It’s dependent on the development of that area out there – how fast Toll Brother builds,” Mr. Abbott said.

On the books

Other projects for the Fire Department include a $512,000 remodeling of the east side’s Fire Station 301, 16750 N. Village Dr. East. Work included turning a conference room into two bedrooms.

Fire and police are also jointly kicking in $9 million each from their budgets for a Public Safety Evidence and Readiness Center, which is expected to open in Spring 2021 on city-owned land at 134th and Foxfire drives. The facility will give both departments a place to store evidence and tactical gear for emergencies.

As part of its budget, the Fire Department factors in asset and vehicle replacement each year.

City Finance Director Andrea Davis said a ladder truck runs about $1.25 million, a regular fire truck costs about $775,000 and each ambulance sets the city back about $375,000.

Mr. Abbott said the city’s quick growth in the early 2000s forced it to build several fire stations around the same time. Now, the focus is more on maintaining the fleet.

“We’re trying to replace a fire engine a year, so they all don’t become due at one point,” Mr. Abbott said.

The city’s ambulance program now has four vehicles after the latest one went into service in mid-December at Fire Station 301. A fifth one is planned for later this year, although the department wants to analyze where it would serve the city best.

“We’ll take a hard look at it to see if we’re able to fulfill the needs of the community if we’re providing service in a reasonable time frame,” Mr. Abbott said. “I would forecast that Station 308, when it goes online, there will be an ambulance associated with that fire station to cover that southeast portion of the city as it grows.”

Ties that bond

During his presentation to the City Council, Mr. Abbott said the need to use public bond money for future fire stations is possible depending on the city’s cash flow situation at the time.

“It depends on timing of when we get that revenue in,” Mr. Abbot said. “So, in the instance where if we need it more in the beginning of the growth than in the latter half of the growth, we won’t have the cash on hand to build the stations, as they do take a while.”

In the case bonds would have to be used, Mr. Abbott said the city would pay them back with developer impact fees it is collecting from all the commensurate growth.

“When we do our impact fee study, we do have future fire stations that we’ve included in the impact fee study to make sure we capture the revenue from growth for those stations,” Mr. Abbott told the Council.

Future meetings

The city will continue to listen to department budget presentations at its regular work study meetings through Tuesday, April 2.

City Manager Mike Frazier will present his recommended budget at the Tuesday, April 16 meeting.

The City Council will be asked to adopt a tentative budget on Tuesday, May 7, with final approval scheduled for Tuesday, June 4.

Editor’s note: Jason Stone can be reached at 623-445-2805, on email at jstone@newszap.com or on Twitter at @thestonecave.

CITY BUDGET IMPORTANT DATES

  • Department Presentations: Through Tuesday, April 2
  • City Manager Recommended Budget: Tuesday, April 16
  • Tentative Budget Adoption: Tuesday, May 7
  • Final Budget Adoption: Tuesday, June 4


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