Chiefs hope council approves new fee

DALLAS — The Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire & EMS will host a community forum Thursday to discuss a proposed utility bill fee to augment police and fire/EMS services.

The forum will be at the Dallas Civic Center at Dallas City Hall, 187 SE Court St., at 7 p.m.

Police Chief Tom Simpson and Fire/EMS Chief Fred Hertel have proposed a $4.85 monthly fee be added to water bills in Dallas to pay for two police officers and two firefighters.

Hertel and Simpson launched a social media campaign, posted information and a survey on the city’s website, and printed flyers to provide information to the public.

Thursday’s forum is another chance for people to express their views and concerns about the proposal before the chiefs make a recommendation to the Dallas City Council on Monday.

“We want to give folks a chance to come down and ask us some questions,” Simpson said. “It’s one last opportunity for people to say what they want to say.”

Simpson said that based on the feedback gathered through the informational campaign, the council could choose to enact the fee on July 16.

If the fee is adopted by the council, it would supply the police department with another patrol officer and a detective sergeant to supervise the person and property crime unit.

Simpson said it would allow him to move from having officers on 12-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts.

“Frankly working 12-hour shifts is taxing. A lot of agencies do it. It’s a way to get better coverage with fewer people,” Simpson said. “If we can transition to 10-hour shifts, the guys will have a healthier shift to work and more time with their family.”

It also would help with recruiting officers. He said competition for officers is high nationwide, and those seeking jobs in police work look at work load as part of their decision-making process.

“We are trying to do everything we can to make our agency one that people will want to come work for because recruiting is a challenge all across the country,” Simpson said. “Anything that we can do to balance out the shift work is better.”

He said adding two officers, which would bring the Dallas police to 21 officers, would allow the department to meet the needs of the citizens of Dallas for the foreseeable future.

“We’ve got great equipment. We’ve got great training on our end of things. Facilities could be better. We are working on that and hoping that will make a difference someday,” Simpson said. “The only other thing we can address is the working conditions and the work load. If we can make better shifts that are less taxing, that makes it that much more of an attractive place to work.”

For Dallas Fire & EMS, adding two firefighter/paramedics will address the current gap between volunteer availability and call volume. Most staffing and facilities issues need to be addressed in the future, Hertel said.

Hertel said the number of calls his department takes is increasing, and he sees that pattern continuing. Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., most of the department’s volunteers are unavailable. That is the time the most calls come in.

Dallas Fire & EMS added two firefighters paid for by a federal grant almost two years ago. That has reduced the average response time in town from about 18 minutes to 13 minutes.

On busy days, administrative staff must go out on calls in addition to their other responsibilities

“Physically and logistically, we can’t keep doing what we are doing without burning out our staff,” he said. “It’s just not working.”

With the fee, the department would have the ability to provide paid staff to cover 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days per week. Currently paid staff work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days per week.

“It is not meant to eliminate the volunteers. It’s meant to augment when they are working. Dallas Fire has a very longstanding volunteer tradition. By no means do we want that to go away,” said April Welsh, the Dallas Fire & EMS spokeswoman. “We just want the volunteers to be able to go to work and not have to stress out over the fact that a house is going to burn down or there’s a car accident that they can’t go out and help out on.”

Commenting has been disabled for this item.