Wellington’s Revenues Are Up, PBCFR Response Times Down

Presentations on Wellington’s financial health and the village’s annual report from Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue highlighted the Wellington Village Council meeting on Tuesday, March 12.

Also on the agenda was a public hearing on improving small cell wireless service and the awarding of a long-planned rehabilitation contract for Wellington’s wastewater facility.

A presentation of the audit results for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2018 revealed the Village of Wellington’s finances to be very healthy and very liquid. The budget was projected to receive $41.3 million in revenue but brought in more than expected with $42.66 million collected. In the budgeted expenditures of $45.7 million, only $41.2 million was spent. No control-related issues were found in the current or previous year, and the outside auditors found that the records are in compliance.

“The budget audit is our report card as a council, and I’m quite proud of this audit,” Vice Mayor Michael Drahos said, congratulating the village staff for making it happen.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind echoed his comments saying, “Few municipalities have a report as good as this.”

The annual report from PBCFR for the same fiscal year was presented by District Chief William Rowley and Division Chief Rich Ellis.

In situations where seconds count, the big news is that the average fire-rescue response time has been improved by some nine seconds, from 6:45 to 6:36 minutes. Overall calls remained consistent, with nearly three-quarters of the 5,253 calls being medical issues. “Response time is an area where PBCFR can affect success,” Rowley said.

Rowley explained that 112 fire calls ranged from a pot on the stove to a structure fire of a room burning, and a grass fire to acreage ablaze. The equipment to fight these fires is maintained by staff technicians and mechanics. “The condition of these units is excellent,” said Rowley, who pointed out that staff maintains them very well.

He said preventative maintenance is done on site so the equipment is still in the area it serves and not at the maintenance facility where it would have to have a replacement vehicle stand in to provide service.

Rowley said that the team from each of the four stations that cover Wellington is independent, but the teams can work together for larger situations, even drawing other regional teams to respond for large events. He continued that teams undergo continuous training to maintain their proficiency in such things as vehicle extrication and the methods of disassembling a car, which needs to occur sometimes in the 332 auto accidents annually in the village.

Ellis spoke about PBCFR’s new Mobile Integrated Health initiative that works with the preponderance of medical calls, some 60 percent of which are made by what they categorize as high frequency 911 users. This is defined as callers to the emergency line of three or more times in a two-week period.

Mayor Anne Gerwig interjected that this might be residents with anxiety disorders that manifest as a physical ailment. Ellis agreed, pointing out that another example is, “Patients not taking diabetes medication properly.”

Social workers are notified and contact the callers to make them aware of social services available to the patients. These efforts have resulted in a 75 percent reduction in these high frequency calls.

Additionally, Ellis pointed out that any addiction-related call results in a phone contact from a social worker to make the resident aware of the services available. “This has resulted in a 45 percent reduction, just by making these phone calls offering service,” Ellis said.

Any calls involving a pregnant woman are coded for the outreach program and trigger a similar call from a social worker. “If we save only one baby, it is worth it,” Ellis said. “These programs save on calls, transport to the emergency room and cases where the patient is admitted. It also provides savings across the healthcare system.”

Rowley said that public education is important, especially for children, so the first interaction they have with PBCFR team members isn’t during an incident. The department holds joint events with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. “There is a great partnership with PBCFR and the PBSO that has developed over six to eight years or more to get to the level of cooperation we have,” he said.

In other business:

• A small cell wireless ordinance was the topic of an initial public hearing. It generally addresses what the village would like to see such carriers put in the rights of way in Wellington. There was no public comment.

“We are as protective in regulations as we are allowed to be,” Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said, noting that the village has to comply with a host of state and federal regulations on the topic.

It was stressed that nothing was being proposed that looks different from what has already been used for a decade in the village. Small cell wireless tends to look like a utility pole and is accepted as aesthetically pleasing.

Years ago, the placement of such facilities brought out major opposition. Not so anymore, as good mobile phone service has become less of a luxury and more of a necessity.

“The attitude of residents has changed over time,” Gerwig said. “They want good cell service.”

Village Manager Paul Schofield verified that the ordinance is compliant with state and federal rules and stressed to the public that the village can’t compel carriers to put poles in where they do not have the client base to justify it.

• The council awarded a contract of $19 million to Wharton-Smith Inc., the lowest qualified bidder, for the upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility on Pierson Road. The firm has worked with the village before on several projects and always came in under budget and under schedule.

The 35-year-old treatment plant must remain open and operational during the two-year repair and rehabilitation project for renewal and expansion of the facility. It has reached the age where renewal typically occurs and has recently faced odor challenges.

Gregory Williams, of Wharton-Smith, said he lives in the area and his children attend school in Wellington. He said that he has worked on the other projects, noting that the firm has been a good neighbor while the work went on and there were no problems with the projects. “We never made the 6 p.m. news,” he remarked.

• Schofield reported that the PBSO’s Operation Wild Stallion program, which cracks down on drinking and driving during the equestrian season, has resulted in traffic stops being up and DUI and underage drinking arrests being down.

• Finally, Gerwig had Schofield clarify the traffic calming policy of the village, due to recent discussions on social media. If an area would like to install traffic calming, such as speed bumps, they must have the vote of a majority of the residents and pay one-half of the fee to install the measures. Schofield said that traditionally, the speeders in an area are the actual residents of that area, and that often a year or so later, the residents want to have the traffic calming devices removed.