Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com.
Roughly 65 miles to the east of Los Angeles is the mid-sized city of Redlands, California. With a population of more than 70,000 people, Redlands is feeling the same financial pinch so many communities are struggling with. But Redlands has done something unique in its attempts to deal with it – it is using volunteers to fill out the public service positions the budget won’t allow it to fill.
According to a story in Governing magazine’s April issue, the Redlands police department has shed a considerable amount of cost by revising its way of doing business. While the force included approximately 300 sworn officers and civilians only three years ago, it has cut back on those numbers by almost a third.
The difference is in the volunteers. While there were only about two dozen volunteers working with the police force previously, there are almost 300 today, who put in a grand total of more than 31,000 hours last year.
Included in that list of volunteers who are offering their city real value in return for the chance to serve are more than two-dozen skilled folks who operate Air 10, a Cessna 172 fitted out for police work.
Aviation enthusiasts are part of the solution in Redlands. That’s a feather to proudly wear in any hat. They’re getting the job done, while providing a service the city just flat-out couldn’t afford any other way.
The original plan wasn’t to use volunteers, of course. But when the dollars dried up, someone has to get the work done. When austerity hits hard, creativity often follows. And as anyone who has ever been to Sun ‘n Fun or Air Venture can attest, volunteerism works. It works in bad times, and it works in good times, too – but try to sell that to the folks selling status quo to the masses. It usuall takes hard times for reality to hit home in city hall (or the state house for that matter).
Volunteers are good for a community and its bank account. They have the unique advantage of being able to increase the sense of pride so many residents have in their hometown, too. This is a win-win-win no matter how you look at it.
Of course, Redlands didn’t plan on putting a Cessna from the used aircraft market on their flight-line. The original intent was to lease a helicopter from the county. But with a $500,000 per month price tag – plus operating expenses — there was no way the public could afford that bill. Instead, Redlands made use of drug forfeiture moneys to pick up a 44-year-old Cessna. Then they installed a video camera system that could be operated from the back seat. A volunteer pilot sits up front, while a sworn officer sits in the back working the laptop and the camera system.
It’s all about team-work, as successful solutions tend to be, no matter what the problem is.
This is a solution that makes sense. And it’s a solution that so many towns and cities across the country could look at to cut their own costs during these trying times. Will they make the conversion as willingly and successfully as Redlands has? Who can say? But if just a few General Aviation News readers took the opportunity to review the magazine’s article (which is very well written by John Buntin) and take a few facts to heart, they just might find the opportunity to mention this alternative method of cutting costs to their own mayor, police chief, or city manager. And if just a handful of those civic officials were to allow a pilot-project to be implemented (pardon the pun) – there just might be some savings in the offing for a few towns and cities who could stand to economize right now.
The fact that highly skilled, civic minded, volunteer pilots and mechanics may find themselves in the paper or on the news telling how they pitched in to help their community balance the budget while maintaining a high level of service – well that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Nope. In fact, it might be a good thing all around.
It’s worth thinking about. Better yet, it’s an idea worth acting on.
You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com