The Mysterious Case of Winchester's Informal Capital Improvement Plan
Bottom line up front: Something doesn't add up. The City of Winchester claimed they have a Capital Improvement Plan for the "Winchester Fire & Rescue Department and volunteers," but the $45,000 ESCI report says otherwise. (A Capital Improvement Plan in the case of Fire and Rescue would cover the repair/maintenance/replacement of vehicles along with funding sources, timelines, etc. Here is a CIP from another locality.)
Here is the "mystery" in Winchester (and, by "mystery," I mean lack of transparency and facts that do not add up):
The City of Winchester does not own fire stations or fire equipment-- volunteers do. Per the April 2020 ESCI report on the state of fire and rescue in Winchester, "The Apparatus Repair and Replacement programs within the City of Winchester are cause for significant concern.... This is a safety issue." The ESCI report recommends the development of a plan to cover maintenance, repair, and replacement of apparatus: "The Winchester Fire and Rescue Department should work with the four volunteer fire companies to develop a Fire Apparatus Replacement Program. The existence of a city-wide plan will allow the City and the volunteer fire companies time to plan for these significant financial investments." Not only does the city not have a plan, but the lack of planning is a safety issue.
Here is the plot twist: According to Winchester, we've had a plan since 2018! In at least two separate areas (so this isn't a typo or mistake), the City lists as "key accomplishment" a"Capital Improvement Plan for City and volunteer fire companies. Completed. Spring 2018."
I have asked around about the Capital Improvement Plan, and looked for it on the City website (and elsewhere). The ESCI consultants obviously looked around for it too. There is no plan that accounts for expenditures and funding sources related to fire and rescue apparatus. So what is there? In the Strategic Plan (2016-2020), there is this action item:"Informal CIP between City and Volunteer Fire Companies" I am not sure how such a plan can be "informal." "Informal" just doesn't cut it when it comes to our safety and the safety of firefighters. (See my video from July 21 for more thoughts on that topic).
In terms of transparency and ethics, it is not OK to tell the public "We have a Capital Improvement Plan with fire and rescue as of 2018" when nobody has seen this plan and the ESCI report lists this kind of plan as a "to do" item.
Presenting misleading information to citizens is a problem, especially when it is about about the department in charge of protecting our lives and property. We live here; we fund these services with our tax dollars; and we deserve to know what local government is doing with our resources.
As mayor, I will bring transparency to City Hall. I will be a responsible steward of your tax dollars and your trust.