Another town budget will be voted on next month and based on the recent presentation by Chief Dotoli it seems obvious the town board and town manager intend to continue to give Huntersville Fire Department, Inc. a pass on transparency and accountability. HFD, Inc. is only asking for a mere $4.4 million from Huntersville taxpayers in the FY 19/20 budget, a 12.3% increase over their budget last year, so what’s the big deal if taxpayers have almost no control over how and where that $4.4 million is spent. And just a reminder that HFD, Inc. is not actually a department of the town, but a non-profit corporation that contracts with Huntersville to provide fire, rescue, and other emergency services.
Every year various “external agencies” request monies from taxpayers for their specific organization/cause – often a charitable cause. [You may recall the prior town board approved new guidelines for appropriating monies to external agencies.] In this FY 19/20 budget, $4,664,103 is being requested by external agencies with the overwhelming majority, $4.4 million, being requested by HFD, Inc. At the town board pre-meeting on April 1, the town board heard from some of the external agencies requesting money from taxpayers in this year’s budget. The four groups besides HFD, Inc. that sent speakers to the April 1 pre-meeting represent a total budget request of $54K (Crime Stoppers $2K, Hugh Torance $12K, Ada Jenkins $20K, and Latta Plantation $20K) so it made total sense to give these four groups the majority of the 60 minute pre-meeting while only requiring HFD, Inc. Chief Dotoli spend approx. 18 minutes at the podium to justify his group’s $4.4 million request.
It’s an election year so I know nothing I write is going to change how this board operates when it comes to oversight of the HFD, Inc. budget because politicians care more about counting votes than doing the right thing, but here are a few questions nonetheless.
The HFD, Inc. FY 19/20 budget presentation is included below for reference. Feel free to submit your own questions after you’ve reviewed the budget presentation.
- 18 minutes? Seriously, that’s all the time the town board can find to question anyone from HFD, Inc. about their $4.4 million budget request??
- Why did the HFD, Inc. budget presentation not break down calls by station? (i.e., How many fewer calls did Station 3 run compared to every other Station?)
- Why is the town board and town manager STILL allowing HFD, Inc. to conduct a search for land for another new station after the debacle surrounding the site selection for Station 3? Huntersville taxpayers cannot afford another $3.5 million mistake like Station 3 that came about after a prior town board in 2008 neglected to question the circumstances around its site selection.
- Why does Huntersville even need a Station 5 when Davidson’s new Station 2 is right across Hwy 73 in the general area where HFD, Inc. is claiming to be searching for land for a new station? Why hasn’t the town explored options to contract with Davidson Fire for coverage of the northeastern area of Huntersville?
- Why is Chief Dotoli having lunch with someone from MEDIC to discuss medical calls? Didn’t Huntersville just abandon the North Meck Rescue Squad because HFD, Inc. was going to handle all medical calls and all fire calls and save the town money in the process?
- Why hasn’t the town put the fire services contract out for competitive bid yet?
- Why have there been no efforts to renegotiate the current fire services contract with HFD, Inc. to include greater transparency and accountability provisions? Try sending a few questions to HFD, Inc. about how they spend your tax dollars and maybe you’ll get your own no contact letter from an attorney at the McIntosh Law Firm!
- Why exactly does HFD, Inc. need to budget $11,500 for legal fees? It can’t possibly cost that much to send no contact letters to Huntersville residents who just want to know how their money is being spent.
- Why didn’t Commissioners Melinda Bales and Nick Walsh ask a single question of Chief Dotoli during his budget presentation? Put someone from the new management company at (the now profitable) HFFA at the podium and Bales and Walsh can’t stop asking questions – but a $4.4 million request from HFD, Inc.? Crickets.
- Why isn’t there a town board liaison for HFD, Inc.? We have liaisons for the (now very profitable) HFFA, but no liaisons for HFD, Inc.?
- Not a single town board member wanted to know how HFD, Inc. calculates $1.6 million in “losses per incident” and how that supposedly measures performance?
- The HFD, Inc. budget request includes a $1.50 raise for all part-time employees. How many of HFD, Inc.’s employees are part-time and how many are full-time? How many of HFD, Inc.’s “part-time” employees are “full-time” employees at another agency (Charlotte Fire, East Lincoln, etc.)? How was the “average” rate of $15/hr for firefighters in Mecklenburg County arrived at? Is this an average starting part-time rate or the average rate of all pay in Mecklenburg County?
If transparency and accountability are important to you, maybe considering letting your current town board know before they vote on the budget next month. Sure it’s possible the town manager doesn’t recommend the full $4.4 million in his recommended budget, but whatever the amount the town board agrees to fund HFD, Inc. you as the taxpayer will still have almost no control over where and how that money is spent. This situation will never improve if we keep electing politicians who are afraid to challenge HFD, Inc. because they don’t want to lose votes in an election year. And it definitely won’t improve if we elect full-time candidate Joe Sailers. [Full disclosure – Mr. Sailers has a family member who is a firefighter at HFD, Inc.]