All Latrobe departments earmarked for changes
Latrobe city officials will consider changes to each department through a five-year Early Intervention Program to stave off a $500,000 debt by 2016 or longer-term action by the state.
Council this week discussed a five-year management plan that includes 67 recommendations, including consolidation of the city's six fire departments into four, better record-keeping for the police and fire departments, and development of a business plan for the waste transfer station.
City Manager Alex Graziani said council will draft a final report from the recommendations.
“This kind of analysis is done rarely by communities in our circumstances. Most communities go through the Early Intervention Plan when they're on death's doorstep and ready to be submitted to life support,” or Act 47 bankruptcy, he said. “What we were trying to do was be very proactive.”
“We're a community where our finances, our funding stream, our pensions are a little more stable than others who've taken these kinds of steps.”
Latrobe hired an independent financial consultant, Delta Development Group Inc. of Mechanicsburg, to prepare the plan under the state Department of Community and Economic Development's Early Intervention Program.
The state paid 75 percent of the $83,750 study, while the city is responsible for 25 percent.
Graziani stated in his 2013 budget report that the plan will outline short-term and long-term financial, managerial and economic development strategies that Latrobe can consider.
“I'm going to use as much as I can to help me understand and prepare the 2014 budget and budgets going forward,” he said.
Act 47, or the Financially Distressed Municipalities Act, calls for oversight by a state-appointed receiver who manages the city's finances.
Delta Development said Latrobe is “trending negatively” but predicts no imminent fiscal crisis between 2013 and 2016.
The city must consider new sources of revenue while containing costs, consultants said, and the city should consider the use of revenue generated by Latrobe's transfer station as a long-term strategy with a specific business plan.
Based on a budget projection, Latrobe will run a deficit of $531,268 by 2016.
“It's no different than your household; you can't spend more than you make,” Graziani said.
Councilwoman Rosie Wolford said the plan is helping to facilitate conversation about long-term planning in every department.
“There may be some valid reasons to do things and there may be some valid reasons not to do things,” she said.
“Just because we're having the conversation doesn't mean it's going to happen. Just because they're making recommendations doesn't mean we're necessarily going to agree with it.”
Each department went through a months-long review, including the fire department.
Its six stations account for 4.4 percent of the city's $5 million annual budget, about $223,000 per year.
By comparison, the police department represents about 33 percent of the annual budget.
“We're 4.4 percent against the budget and if that's breaking the bank, that's a real sad situation,” said fire Chief John Brasile, who attended this week's council meeting with about 50 firefighters, all volunteers aside from two full-time drivers.
Graziani said a paid department would cost more than $1 million, so he understands the “bargain” the volunteers afford the city.
“If we had to have paid fire it would be a very similar, if not more expensive, part of the budget,” Graziani said.
But Bill Gaughan, fire consultant for the plan, said in order to operate efficiently — given Latrobe's population, square mileage, number of volunteers and call volume — the station could do away with at least two engines.
“You have more stations and more apparatus than you need,” he said. “In your geographic area, it doesn't match up well.”
Gaughan said he was unable to obtain many financial records to help evaluate how the department works.
“I didn't get anything. I didn't even get a request to meet and say, ‘Why do you want these numbers?' ” he said.
Brasile said since each station acts as a separate incorporated entity, he does not have authority to review financial records.
“If they don't want to divulge that information, I can't make them. I can't blame them ...,” he said. “I have no right to know, that's money they've earned.”
With a shrinking population, less money will be available from donations or solicitations and more financial transparency could encourage more people to give, Gaughan said.
Lane Mullen, president of Hose Company No. 5, said the current system is working, keeping each station autonomous and internally accountable.
“If you leave us alone, we can take care of ourselves and we can take care of Latrobe as we have been doing for a lot of years,” he said.
The five-year plan also recommends eliminating fire dispatch and using Westmoreland County 911, as well as improved training.
Brasile said a training officer has been appointed to help reach that goal.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.