Tulsa's New Budget Put To Reality Check

Friday, June 19th 2009, 6:57 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The City of Tulsa settles on a bottom line for the budget. It includes cutbacks in every department.  And, another round of cuts may be coming.  The city will find out in just over two weeks whether it has even less money to spend than what's in the budget.

06/18/2009  Related Story: City of Tulsa's New Budget Includes Furloughs

The fact is the city lives check to check and if the next sales tax check is lower than expected, more cuts will come.  Already the cutbacks are forcing change.

Tulsa Fire Captain Michael Baker is helping lead changes in the fire department that could both save money and provide a better response.  A paramedic truck is part of the change.  It's one of two the department will use for medical emergencies, which now account for 70% of all Tulsa Fire Department runs.

"Those kind of tasks, as long as you have two people you can work safely in certain environments.  They can handle that situation.  This is the evolution of the fire service," said Tulsa Fire Captain Michael Baker.

To staff the trucks with two people each, the department is taking out a fire engine from each of two stations in the middle of town.  They'll still have a second truck and four firefighters at each of the stations with the new trucks.

"So even though there will be one less engine there, there is still firefighting capability in that station.  We would never take that away.  We still have that job to do," said Tulsa Fire Captain Michael Baker.

Anytime a paramedic truck responds to a medical emergency, it saves wear and tear on an engine that otherwise would have been sent out.  There's a savings in manpower because two firefighters respond instead of three and when it comes time to replace the truck, it cost less than half as much.

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor says the realignment at the fire department is happening with police, too, to make government more efficient in times that demand costs be cut.

"We have officers that do a lot of things, same as firefighters, we have fire education," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor. "So it will impact some of the jobs that they do, but they won't be jobs that impact public safety."

The bottom line on the budget can change throughout the year and if things turn around, some of what's been cut can be added back in.  So far, there's no sign that will happen.