The Mesa Fire and Medical Department isn't covering budget cuts with a Band-Aid. It's sticking a business's logo over them.
The department will now allow businesses to place their logo on the side of firetrucks, along with a message about safety in exchange for the purchase of a sponsorship deal. The decision is just one of several in an attempt to generate desperately-needed revenue for the department staring down $3.7 million in budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year.
The cuts making their way through the public-safety agency are fissures felt more sharply by staff than by Mesa residents, Deputy Chief Forrest Smith said.
But something's got to give when it comes to funding, or cracks in public safety could start to grow, said Dale Crogan, president of United Mesa Firefighters. He contends that the department could make money through sponsorship, but that generating revenue ultimately shouldn't be a priority for public-safety departments.
"Do I think there will be people who will want to pay? I do," he said. "Do I think this is a very fragile and scary scenario to have to be in? Yeah, I think I do."
He's pushing to ask voters to approve a tax hike next fall.
How the sponsorship works
The department aims to make $250,000 annually through the truck sponsorship packages, which will range from $2,500 to $15,000 apiece. A sponsored truck will display two vinyl decals, with a safety message above a company's logo.
The back of a trading card to be included in sponsorship packages from Mesa Fire and Medical. (Photo: Mesa Fire and Medical Department)
Engine 203, one of the busiest in Mesa, received a sponsorship from the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. That truck now advises onlookers to "stop the spread of the flu."
Smith said the department has fielded concern over "commercializing ourselves too much," but it will continue to emphasize safety over salesmanship.
"We’re not looking at Number 23 Home Depot car like Daytona," he said. "It’s really something that’s mission-driven where it’s putting a message out there."
He added that Mesa fire will be careful with which companies display messaging on their trucks.
"For the most part, a lot of the companies reaching out to us have some sort of investment in this arena of safety messaging," he said.
So far prospective sponsors reaching out to the department include heating and cooling, and an insurance organization, according to Smith.
The idea tackles two important issues: circulating critical health and safety messaging around the community while potentially offsetting ballooning budget cuts, Smith said.
"What we had to do was say, 'Well, we’re at a point where it’s hard to cut anymore,' then we had to say, 'Well, what can we do to raise the money?' "
Other ideas await council approval
The Mesa City Council may also consider false-alarm fees.
The fees for false alarms would only apply to commercial properties. Under the plan, Mesa fire would charge $100 per false alarm called in by a commercial property. The $100 fee would not apply if the call is canceled en route, according to the proposal.
Mesa Fire and Medical Department (Photo: David Wallace/The Republic)
The Mesa Fire and Medical Department received 467 false-alarm calls from commercial properties last year. Officials also proposed charging for responses to damaged gas lines.
In all, the department estimates it could make about $45,000 during this fiscal year and $77,000 in the next fiscal year.
It's all a part of a strategy to look at innovative ways to make money. Several months ago, Chief Mary Cameli visited fire stations to gather ideas from sworn and civilian staff working in the field, according to Smith.
The new fee proposal is on council's agenda for the Dec. 11 meeting.
The effects of budget cuts
Smith said that the cuts have affected crew members. Some overtime has been cut, which in turn trims training time for crews.
"We’re going to show up for the calls, we’re going to be there, now we’re just going to have to modify all that training," he said.
Call volume, and an increasing population in certain parts of the city like around the fast-growing Eastmark subdivision, also demands more resources, according to Crogan.
"The call volume has increased to an astronomical level where it’s borderline a mistake for our units or for our manpower to be running that many calls each and every day they go to work," he said.
As of October, crews have responded to 7,000 more incidents this year than at the same time last year, which is a 13 percent jump, according to a city document.
Fire and medical calls for service increased by 25 percent between 2010 and 2016.
New tax, bond proposals in 2018?
Crogan believes trying to come up with new ways to generate revenue is beyond the mission of public safety. And he wants voters to understand that message come November if a public safety bond or tax hike appears on the ballot.
"Public safety is a crucial part in having a successful, competent compassionate community," he said. "This is a group of people that their sole purpose is to serve their community. It isn’t to generate money, it isn’t to create new and innovative ways to have revenue come into the city. All those things may happen, but we are here to respond to what you perceive as an emergency."
Mesa voters rejected a sales-tax hike that would help public safety departments in 2016. The failed tax 0.4 percent increase was tied to plans for an Arizona State University campus and other higher education projects in downtown, which Crogan said was "the wrong thing to do."
The measure would've raised $38 million a year; about 60 percent would have been aimed at public safety.
Crogan hopes the city will go after another public safety tax in November 2018.
"We’ve been creative, we’ve been innovative, we’ve tried to add in grant dollars, but all of that’s temporary," Crogan said.
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