Letter: Measure Y, Piedmont Fire Department

Michael Rancer, former chair of the Municipal Tax Review Committee, writes about the comparatively high costs and staffing of the Piedmont Fire Department.


Backers of Measure Y try to scare voters into supporting the parcel tax by claiming that loss of the tax threatens critical public safety services, especially the fire department. So it’s worth asking the question, “How do Piedmont fire department staffing and costs compare with similar small, affluent cities?” Not favorably, is the short answer.  

In its report to the Council last year, MTRC prepared summary budget comparisons with several cities. We have updated the information to currently available budgets. For fire protection, the comparable cities (those with their own fire departments, not consolidated with other jurisdictions) were Larkspur, Mill Valley, San Marino, Sausalito and Albany (fire chief shared with Piedmont).  Piedmont’s population is 10,667, compared to an average of 12,622 for the other cities. The most striking comparisons between our fire department and those of the other cities are as follows: [Editor's note: The charts are shown in the attached graphics. Mr. Rancer's letter is also attached as a PDF with the graphcis embedded.]

  • Size of fire department staff (reported as Full Time Equivalent Employees or FTEs)   
  • Fire department budget per dwelling in the city
  • Dwellings in the city per fire department FTE 

To summarize the links between the different bits of data, Piedmont is almost 20% smaller than the average of the other cities, yet its fire department has 26% more staff. As a result, fire protection in Piedmont costs 53% more per dwelling than the average, and the ratio of houses protected to fire department employees in Piedmont is only half of the other cities. The surplus cost for fire protection in Piedmont is nearly equal to the amount of revenue raised by the parcel tax.  

The fire department in Piedmont has two central functions: fire fighting and ambulance/paramedic services. The ambulance portion of the budget is about a quarter of the cost of each shift, and responding quickly to paramedic calls is one of the city’s highest priority services. However, in a city that experiences, on average, about one house fire per year, it is reasonable to question the premium paid for our overall fire department size.  

The city of Albany, with whom we share a fire chief, has almost twice Piedmont’s population and number of dwellings, and a larger area. Yet its fire budget is 15% less than Piedmont’s and the personnel count on a regular fire shift is 25% smaller.  The comparisons are striking and deserve detailed examination by our City Council.

For more information on the parcel tax issue, go to www.NoOnMeasureY.com.

Michael Rancer

Jim McCrea September 08, 2012 at 12:49 AM
I find it interesting (?) that the City Council has not undertaken a marketing program to show the voters of Piedmont what the Council thinks will be the negative effect of a failure to pass Measure Y. Certainly they must have talked about "Plan B" that details various scenarios of cuts in that event. Why is it so difficult to provide the voters with accessible information about this matter? Why are there no public meetings scheduled to discuss what they deem to be a critical issue? I do hope that the Council does not believe that the ostrich approach will suffice because the average voter (1) can't handle the issues, (2) can't understand the issues or - even worse - (3) doesn't care.
Rick Schiller September 08, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Ms. Barbieri, As an addendum to my response to you, and if you care to comment, perhaps the following will be helpful in discussing the substantive issues concerning the Kurtin/Hills-SeaVew litigation. One of the fundamental issues being litigated, perhaps the central issue, is that before the district was formed, the City agreed that it would take a supermajority of 60% of the residents to proceed with the project. When the vote came it at approximately 56%, the Council said it wasn’t bound by its promise. Although the litigation is closed, I would appreciate your thoughts on this basic issue.
alex Bell September 08, 2012 at 04:43 AM
And I had a fall, didn't need a fire truck, but they sent one anyway because "Piedmont requires a fire truck to accompany all calls for ambulances." How much does that redundancy cost us in manpower & equipment. Wonder if that brilliant rule wasn't generated by the unions.
Public Safety Voice October 21, 2012 at 08:53 PM
s has been his history, Mr Rancers "story" is incomplete. Such broad comparisons are easy to make when ALL of the facts of how and why a Fire Department is run the way it is, are not utilized. Shame on you for telling half truths in order to further your misguided and unrealistic agenda. It seems what you and Mr Schiller desire is to punish the City manager over under grounding. If this is true, why not focus your efforts on him instead of this vicious attack on your public safety and your neighbors? You and your highly educated budgetary committee should have been able to properly investigate all of your claims as to Fire Department staffing, yet have FAILED. This is of course mostly due to the fact that you have done ZERO research in your own City. You pull a few numbers and compare them, without digging and seeing the facts and reasons behind them. A blind sided approach to analyzing anything will ALWAYS bring us to ignorant conclusions. I cordially invite you to PROPERLY compare all of the above facts with the Fire Chief, and you will find that you already have a very lean, efficient, Fire Department that is the least paid, has the AVERAGE benefits package, pays more of its own benefits share than other departments, and also provide excellent services that other departments do not.
Rick Schiller October 21, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Geoff Grote is the City ADMINISTRATOR, not City MANAGER. Piedmont is a Charter City and Grote's authority is narrowly defined and he operates at the pleasure of and does the wishes of the City Council. Perhaps Councils have over relied on his direction and not held him accountable, but ultimately City Council holds the final authority. Yes, City Administrator Grote is ultimately responsible for the Undergound Debacle and other questionable issues. The City has chosen to do no substantive examination or explanation. But as troubling as many events are of late, Council is evidently comfortable with the performance of Mr. Grote. As to Mr. Rancer's Fire department analysis, if his information were false the proponents would have long ago published counter arguments. Mike has been factual and direct. Most of City Council strongly advocates for the parcel tax and could have directed Fire Chief Tubbs, who is intimately familiar with both Piedmont and Albany Fire departments, to document any errors in Mike Rancer's carefully researched information and refute it. Council has not and the information stands as correct. Mr. Rancer was appointed Chairman of the important MTRC because of his well known extensive public sector budget and financial experience. There has been no attack on the Fire Dept or our neighbors, your comment is not supported by facts. I believe the dialogue is best kept away from personal attacks and should focus on the issues.


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