LGIFR has had an eventful 2014.
The Board of Directors has 3 new members for 2014. Diana Obermeyer was elected to fill the seat of Chuck Soderquist, who chose not to run again when his term on the Board was up. We lost two members, Bob Barrere and Malcolm King, who sold their island properties. We were fortunate that two islanders, Karyn Flatau and Conrad Coolidge were willing and able to replace them.
A volunteer, John Baskett, replaced our paid Financial Advisor, Barb Travers, in April. This occurred just as our financial institution, Florida Shores Bank, was acquired by Stonegate Bank, in what could be charitably termed as a messy transition.
We lost 3 employees this year. Chief Jim Engmark resigned in March to take a higher paying job with benefits. We were extremely fortunate to be able to replace him with our highly qualified Chief Steve Demeter.
One full-time firefighter paramedic resigned for personal reasons, the second to take a higher paying job with benefits. Both of these employees were inexperienced in one or both aspects of the job.
We have had several vehicle problems, all associated with the age of the equipment and the fact that the equipment is not sheltered from the weather.
In June, the Board of Directors voted not to raise the assessment levied on LGI property owners. At that point, I, as Chairman, strongly recommended that the Board engage in some long-term strategic planning because I felt that we are woefully underfunded and not really able to give the island the level of service we had promised.
Starting in August, the Board held a series of meetings to address the long-term needs of LGIFR. Areas addressed were a Fire Station, personnel, and equipment.
The problems or challenges we identified in each of these three areas are as follows:
It is difficult to hire and retain qualified full-time personnel because we can offer no benefits other than two weeks paid vacation.
It is difficult to retain full-time personnel because we require them to live on the island. (I am certain that these first two factors caused Jim Engmark to resign shortly after his 2-year contract expired. And I do not blame him in the least.)
It is difficult to rely on the services of part-time personnel because they are only willing to work when it suits their schedule, not LGIFR’s needs.
It is difficult to require part-time personnel to perform routine maintenance and other tasks that would be part of a full-time employee’s job, when we are basically paying them to be on call.
It is difficult to schedule shift start and end times for part-time personnel that conform to the Hideaway Ferry Schedule.
With its current assessment funding and private contributions, LGIFR is only able to provide a single firefighter/paramedic 24/7 who can respond to a fire with one piece of equipment.
Volunteer firefighters are being trained and would be invaluable assistance in fighting the fire, but LGIFR cannot expect them to schedule their times off-island in such a way that 1 or more of them is always available.
The single paramedic can respond to an EMS call but can perform only one task at a timewhen several are time-sensitive. The trained volunteers could help, but may or may not be available at the time of such a call.
In addition to severely limiting the scope of the services we can render, the absence of a second professional may contribute to the reluctance of some firefighter/paramedics to accept employment (and responsibility) as the sole professional for a 24-hour shift on LGI.
Our current EMS equipment is sufficient.
Our current fire equipment is barely adequate to the task. We are in the process of acquiring a Class A pumper to meet our basic equipment needs, but it is a used truck that does not have the 4-wheel drive which is essential for reaching all points on LGI.
Because of the island environment, our fire and EMS equipment experiences very rapid deterioration, but we have no available financial reserve and no budgeted depreciation funds to pay for any replacements.
As soon as possible, we must construct a firehouse to shelter our equipment and slow its depreciation, and to house our employees when they are on duty.
All of these conclusions lead me to recommend to the Board that LGIFR must have a substantially larger budget to continue to offer fire and emergency medical services on LGI at a safe and effective level. Detailed proposals to address each of the problems that our planning meetings identified will be considered by the Board in January. But here is my rough preliminary estimate of the cost of addressing the problems identified:
Hiring 2 full-time employees in addition to the chief with no one living on the island would solve many staffing problems and save $10,000 in rent on the current chief’s house. These 3 full-time employees (working 24 hours on, 48 hours off) would provide one firefighter/paramedic on duty 24/7. This would add more than $25,000 to the annual budget.
Additionally hiring 3 full-time firefighter/EMTs in order to provide 2 professionals on duty 24/7 would add another $75,000 to the budget.
Creating depreciation accounts in the annual budget to cover the costs of replacing fire andEMS equipment as it wears out would add more than $25,000 to the annual budget.
Providing sufficient funds to cover the annual mortgage cost for the construction of a modest firehouse, with maintenance and insurance costs, would add more the $25,000 to the annual budget (in addition to the annual $18750 plus interest already added to the budget to pay off the mortgage on the lot).
Thus, a very rough and conservative estimate of the additional cost of providing the level of fire and EMS service that the property owners of LGI have come to expect would be more than $75,000 above LGIFR’s current income, even without the second full-time firefighter/EMT that our consultants consider necessary for safe and effective fire and EMSservice. With that second 24/7 position, the total additional estimated cost would be more than $150,000.
As I say, these are my rough estimates, based on conversations with Chief Steve. Of course the Board will need more information and more definite figures to justify any substantial assessment increase and to ask islanders to support it. And if, after careful study, the Board considers a substantial increase to be necessary, each of us will have much work to do to educate islanders about the issue so that they can make an informed choice when asked to approve such an increase.