Rolling Meadows alderman: Let's study privatizing fire department
Rolling Meadows Alderman Brad Judd's proposal to consider privatizing the fire department as a cost-cutting move has ruffled the feathers of firefighters and residents.
Officials are counting on plenty of public comment tonight, Tuesday, when the issue is discussed at the committee meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at city hall.
While he wouldn't go into specifics until the meeting, Judd said he wants to look at hiring a private company to provide ambulance and firefighter services at a lower cost than what the city pays now.
The city spent $7.5 million on the fire department for fiscal year 2008, the latest financial numbers available. They also contributed another $471,423 toward fire department pensions.
"The firefighters do a stellar job," Judd said, saying he's read dozens of e-mails from residents who oppose the idea. "It's has nothing to do, at all ... nothing with this is about the services firefighters provide to the residents of Rolling Meadows."
Judd, the 4th Ward alderman, said the city's budget situation is "extremely precarious - more so than most people want to admit."
The city's property tax levy will soar by 15.5 percent to help sagging revenues and increased city pension payments.
Judd said he wants a fact-based discussion and would only support privatization if it saves significant money. Eventually he may ask for an independent study.
"If we'd save 50 grand, I'm not for that in any shape or form," Judd said. "If they come back and say we'll save $1 million, this could be some we would strongly consider."
He said ambulance calls are particularly costly.
Judd said he does not support outsourcing Rolling Meadows fire service to neighboring communities, nor would he accept increased response times.
"The city owns the fire station," he added. "I would sure hope if we had privatization that the entity would use our stations."
Mayor Ken Nelson said the council was "shellshocked" by Judd's request to discuss the matter, and that agreeing to talk about it does not mean he endorses it.
Nelson said he hasn't heard Judd's full proposal, and would not comment further until he does.
"We'll see what happens," Nelson said. "We're getting a lot of feedback, not too many like the idea. I suppose we'll have a large crowd there Tuesday."
Contrary to some public perception, nothing has been proposed nor has city staff been directed to prepare any informational materials for the council. The matter has simply been placed on the meeting's agenda.
Rockford is considering outsourcing ambulance calls and Geneva has used ambulances from neighboring St. Charles and Batavia for years. Geneva ends up paying a prorated cost, depending on the number of emergency calls.
A Facebook page, "Support Rolling Meadows Firefighters and Paramedics," that opposes the outsourcing has been set up urging residents to attend Tuesday night's meeting and for them to contact their aldermen.
"Alderman Brad Judd has proposed discussion regarding outsourcing of your Rolling Meadows Fire Department, after 50-plus years of dedicated service," the page reads.
The page lists David Bacino, a Rolling Meadows firefighter, as the page's creator. He declined to comment.