Expo: Level Funded Budget Is a Win

Lt. James Kirsch of the Bergenfield (N.J.) Fire Department said there's no panacea, or magic bullet, that will miraculously make fire departments' economic woes disappear. He does, however, have a bunch of tips to help lessen the pain. " In these tough...

Kirsch cautioned that departments should not rely on federal grant money which he calls, "a total crapshoot" and not a sound way to build budgets. The same holds true for fundraising too. "How can you ask people for money if they're paying taxes?" he asked. Some departments are having success with requesting payment for services, particularly for motor vehicle accidents and extrications.

"They bill the insurance company and if they get something, that's great, but they're not going after individuals if they don't get paid," he said. It's also important to show that calls and request for services are increasing, if they indeed are. "You really want to convince them that your calls are going up and your funding is going down," he said.

If the politicians are bent on cutting the budget, make sure they understand the ramifications of such actions and don't be afraid of suggesting cuts be made to popular programs, or those that might be favored by the decision makers. "But don't ever get caught in saying 'If it's not fully funded, don't fund it at all,'" he said. "That makes it too easy for them to cut. ...You don't want them to cut anything at all."

Kirsch also offered a practical tip for departments that might already have funds and just don't know about them. Often, there's left over money in accounts for capital purchases that just gets left on the books, but never spent, he said. A project might cost less than anticipated and money remains, he said. "If you don't get anything else out of this class get this," he said. "Go back to your communities and ask about old municipal ordinance money."

He explained that's money left in an account after its purpose has been completed. "I found thousands of dollars that way," he said, noting that he was able to clear out the accounts, and with a resolution by his city council, he was able to re-allocate that money for a thermal imaging camera back when they were new to the market.

"Just go back and ask about old money. You might be really surprised."

Kirsch said the economic challenges for departments are expected to last to 2013, so now might not be the best time to advance new proposals or seek expansion. Nor should departments shy away from asking for what they really need, but they'll need to be well prepared to back up their requests and document the needs.

"If you're prepared, you might not get cut and they'll go looking to cut someplace else," Kirsch said. "...Right now, no cut is a win."