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Sherry and Craig Petersen bring new ideas to the table

By From page A1 | October 03, 2012

Husband and wife slate Craig and Sherry Petersen describe themselves as reluctant candidates for the El Dorado Hills Fire Board — reluctant in that they’ve recently retired, love to travel, and are active hikers, bikers and runners, all of which will get less attention if a PeterSEN (with an “E”) wins one or both of the two contested seats this fall.

And if the electoral complications of running as a husband and wife aren’t daunting enough, there’s this wrinkle: the other non-incumbent in the race is the similarly named John PeterSON (with an “O”), a fact that could splinter their support.

They originally envisioned just one Petersen on the ballot — they hadn’t decided which one — running with a comparably minded slate-mate. But no qualified candidate stepped forward.

Craig Petersen, 59, was a clinical nutritionist at UC Davis Medical Center until he retired in 2011. He retains a private practice and works about three days a week.

Sherry Petersen, 53, worked for large pharmaceutical firms overseeing roughly a half billion dollars in contracts with managed care companies, a position that kept her on the road and in the air a lot.

She’s currently creating an Internet-based healthcare advice business, a roadmap to the increasingly popular high-deductible health plans on the market. She’s also getting to know more about the inner workings of the community she and Craig have enjoyed for 29 years.

The Petersens moved to Governors Village in 1983 “to live in the country,” said Craig. They spent summer evenings either on the lake or building trails around it, and enjoyed mountain biking and hiking in what became Serrano and Ridgeview.

Voracious readers and news hounds, they said they’ve often regretted not having the time to get more involved in the inner-workings of the community they love. “Well, we’ve got the time now,” said Craig.

“It was put up or shut up time for me,” said Sherry. “I couldn’t keep showing up at their meetings and complaining if I wasn’t willing to participate in this way.”

The Petersens started attending board meetings last year, and were soon asking tough questions. A concerned group of fire district fiscal watchdogs, many graying around their muzzles, welcomed young blood into the pack and have, to varying degrees, embraced their candidacy.

The candidates have kept them at arm’s length, however, along with the firefighters’ union, refusing donations and even endorsements from anyone associated with the district.

Bob Luca nonetheless tossed some praise their way, describing them in an e-mail to Village Life as “bright people who care about how our tax dollars are spent, and also about the fiscal future of our fire department,” adding, “We need new people on the board willing to look at new ideas and put some fresh eyes on the budget.”

Priority 1: Cut spending
The Petersens call for top-down fiscal discipline in a district that’s tapped an admittedly healthy reserve to make ends meet in recent years, yet continues to provide high salaries and generous bonuses and benefits left over from better times.

Sherry spent hours comparing the local operating budget with other agencies and identified spending on a wide range of incidentals that districts with lower revenues either go without or spend far less on, she said.

Her list includes iPads, uniforms, tools, wetsuits and, yes, bagpipes.

Complicating matters, the district’s reserve fund ballooned during the boom years, and current sits at $21.9 million, $13.8 million of which is considered “general reserve,” meaning it’s not earmarked for any specific purpose. The reserve also has $91,584 allocated to retiree medical, according to the 2012-13 Preliminary Budget2012-13 Preliminary Budget.

The current unfunded retirement benefits will consume all of that, she warns. If the board fails to reign in spending and get their employees to pay a larger portion of their retirement and medical bills, the district will become one more agency adding service fees and scrambling to pass tax measures.

To get back on track, the couple propose limiting spending on salaries and operations to $11 million, down from $13.2 million in the 2012-13 Preliminary Budget, $13.1 million last year, and a high of $14.8 million in 2009-10. They propose using the savings to grow the reserve, thus building a protective levee against the potential tsunami of promised retiree benefits.

Priority 2: Faster EMS
Faster emergency response is the Petersens’ second large goal. Sherry dug into the call statistics in the 2011 Annual Report and deemed 90 percent of the calls as “emergency.”

The monthly Response Time Statistics reveal that the district is well shy of its stated response goal: a six-minute response 90 percent of the time.

The Petersens ask why the district has 12 large fire apparatus and just one ambulance, given the 1,407 medical calls vs. 93 fire calls last year.

“Fifty eight percent of non-volunteer fire stations in this country are able to achieve a six-minute response time,” said Sherry.

“For what we’re spending, we should too,” said Craig.

They’d like the board to consider smaller, more agile “ambulance-like vehicles,” perhaps dispatched from smaller, less-expensive, medically-oriented stations situated closer to residential clusters.

Such vehicles might have to operate outside the fiscally strapped Joint Powers Authority, which funds current ambulance service on El Dorado County’s western slope.

The discussion is relevant now because the 2012-13 capital budget includes a $1.1 million ladder truck, a $600,000 engine and the renovation of Station 87 on Francisco Boulevard, with a price tag of $3 million that becomes more than $4 million when the new station and an interim station in the nearby Lake Forest retail center are outfitted.

The Petersens see the planned spending as a $6 million investment in doing things the old way. They’d like to hear a substantive discussion of alternative options and they’d like to hear some additional voices in that dialogue.

“We don’t want to be limited by just the five people currently on the board making these decisions,” said Sherry.

Gathering comparison data
They don’t claim to be experts. “I’m a business person, not a fireman,” said Sherry.

To gain a better understanding of fire and emergency medical operations, the Petersens studied other agencies around the state, personally contacted more than a dozen chiefs and eventually visited an estimated 30 to 40 stations over the last several months. They interviewed administrators and their accountants, asking how and how well things worked.

The officials they contacted were open and friendly, their comments revealing. “We saw that good service is being provided for less than we’re spending here,” said Sherry.

South Placer County officials at Granite Bay’s Olive Branch station, built for $2.8 million in 2008, felt their station was excessive, and told the Petersens they’d rather the money were spent to increase staffing.

The Petersens gathered data on the agencies they studied, and have published a comparison of characteristics, costs and performance metrics for a dozen comparable city fire departments plus seven special districts, including Petaluma, Sausalito, Woodland, Poway, Lakeside and others, many of which have far worse traffic congestion than El Dorado Hills, and geographical and access challenges that include train tracks, freeways, colleges, lakes and old narrow streets.

They also compare ISO insurance ratings for many of those agencies. The comparisons, the Petersens said, make a compelling argument that agencies similar in size and complexity are providing service at least as good, and in some cases better than El Dorado Hills, and all of them do so with less overall spending.

“Even if I add $1 million to the city fire department budgets for the support services the cities provide, we are still 40 percent more than Poway, Sausalito and San Luis Obispo,” said Sherry. “We just spend too much,”

El Dorado Hills Fire Chief Dave Roberts disagrees. Next week’s Village Life will summarize a presentation he recently delivered to the local Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills in defense of his district.

The Petersens acknowledge the concessions in the most recent union contract, which now includes a 3 percent (of salary) CalPERS contribution, but said they want to see pension and retiree healthcare cost sharing for current and future employees increased to levels in comparable agencies — Folsom firefighters now pay 9 percent — or to levels equivalent to those in the recently passed state pension reform.

They warn that unless the CalPERs return on investments improves, the district’s seemingly flush reserve won’t cover unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities.

“We’ve made a commitment to these individuals who have worked for us and now we need to meet those commitments,” said Sherry. “That starts by righting the fiscal ship, not overspending on new firehouses with outdated designs, training centers we don’t need, or wet suits gear for a water rescue service that other agencies already provide.”

She points out that fire and EMS agencies across the country have started imposing fees for service. “They have no choice. It’s either that or start laying off firefighters and browning out stations.”

Folsom’s City Council recently implemented a $225 fee for medical calls to a residence.

A Folsom response in El Dorado Hills ‒ which could easily happen under the current mutual aid policies ‒ could be billable.

For more on the Petersens’ campaign, see “Petersens’ recipe for smaller, faster, cheaper emergency response” on Villagelife.com.

Mike Roberts

Discussion | 12 comments

  • J MillerOctober 01, 2012 - 3:27 pm

    I like what I hear from Petersens not Peterson ! I hope folks remember the difference.

  • Pete VoyOctober 03, 2012 - 9:21 am

    At last! Craig and Sherry PetersEn will bring fiscal responsibility back into the EDH Fire Board. I hope everyone will go to their web site, EDHFirefacts.com, study the issues and vote for them.

  • Dick RossOctober 03, 2012 - 11:59 am

    After watching the Fire Board for several year, I can say the PeterSENs are a true alternative toward a vision of fiscal reality, the real emergency service needs of a maturing population and public oriented common sense non-biased issue analysis. An educated publice, building codes, smoke alarms and now required sprinkler systems have mitigated fire risks. It is time to bring the fire culture into the 21st Century.

  • J. MastersOctober 03, 2012 - 2:33 pm

    There's a VERY healthy reserve, which represent collected tax revenues that probably should be reduced and returned to homeowners. Who is going to work on reducing tax revenues? For all the research mentioned in this article, has anybody looked at the tax percentages collected for firefighters here compared to the rest of the state's fire agencies? I think they'll have their eyes opened.

  • Larry WorthingtonOctober 05, 2012 - 4:25 pm

    I have recently needed the EDH Fire Department and was impressed by their quick response time and professional attitude. During my time of need, I didn't care how much they made.

  • Laird ShubelOctober 05, 2012 - 10:48 pm

    Mike Roberts: I must thank you! I am very pleased you wrote this article. It further emphasizes why I will not vote for either Sherry or Craig Petersen. Once again they have the true facts distorted for personal gain. Sherry recently came through my neighborhood and identified herself as a healthcare professional. Your article confirms she was a pharmaceutical worker and now is creating an “at-home” healthcare advice business. I’m not sure how that qualifies her as a healthcare professional. I am currently a registered nurse and I took offense to any representation by her as a healthcare professional. Sherry and Craig go on to state how high the salaries are for EDH firefighters. Well, they are paid well but you have to remember, they are subject to carcinogens, especially diesel smoke particulate and other chemicals produced by fires like hydrogen cyanide. EDH firefighters aren’t paid any more than the market value of other departments in the area. By the way, I attended a meeting at Holiday Inn Express recently and Sherry said that EDH firemen shouldn’t get paid what Richmond firemen get paid because “It’s not like they have bullets whizzing by their heads like Richmond firemen!” (Just for the record, as a nurse, I make more than an EDH fireman.) Speaking of pay, P-squared compare EDH Fire to Poway Fire Department, in San Diego. I researched Poway’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with it’s employees. Poway is paid only $3 less per hour. BUT, Poway pays 100% of the employees’ health care costs and vision costs. ALSO, in addition to their 457 program, the City of Poway contributes money to an employee 401k on top of that! Pretty sweet! And Poway firemen get 3% of their salary for every year worked and they can retire at 50 years old. Hmmm, just like EDH. Not sure where the huge savings is there. I don’t know about you but if I were applying for a job, which is what the Petersen’s are doing, I would be a lot more educated before I started comparing fire departments and making statements about pensions and fire department budgets. They can skew numbers and repeat the same erroneous information until they are blue in the face. At the end of the day, EDH Firemen don’t make any more than many other California fire departments. They tell you they do, but it’s simply not true. I work in a hospital and I would never dream of walking in to a fire department and telling them how to run their business. Another fact they have fouled up is ambulances. They say they want to cut fire engines and add ambulances. What they don’t know, again because they haven’t done their homework, is that the ambulances and ambulance contracts are solely controlled by the County of El Dorado, specifically the Joint Powers Authority. EDH has no right to arbitrarily add or remove ambulances. If they want more ambulances, maybe their fight should be at the County level and not with EDH. In your article, by her own statement, Sherry is a “businessperson, not a fireman.” Well, it’s obvious. The fire department isn’t a business; it’s a service. Thank you again for writing your article. As a real healthcare worker and EDH resident, I am very pleased with my fire department and I’m thrilled they have saved millions of dollars in reserve to protect their service levels for years to come. They are one of the few fire departments in the State that is financially stable. Thanks in part to your article, I will be voting for incumbent Board Members: Mr. Hidahl and Mr. Hartley. Laird Shubel, RN

  • JoanneOctober 06, 2012 - 1:16 pm

    It sure is interesting to get others points of view on the workings of a public safety organization, especially when "they" have never played the part. Although they seem to be experts for some reason? El Dorado Hills Fire Department, is a great organization that provides outstanding fire suppression, advanced life support medical services and first class community customer service. My family had a medical emergency at our house that involved my elderly father. The firefighters arrived quickly, were very professional and did an outstanding job helping my father out and getting him to the ER where he was able to get the advanced care he needed. My family and friends believe The El Dorado Hills Firefighters deserve what they make in compensation. Compared to adjoining fire departments, our firefighters are neck and neck with compensation, and they deserve every penny they make. Hey Petersen's, why don't you leave public safety alone and go "fix" the major problems with our banks that caused our dire financial problems we are faced with these days. It seems to me that a board that has a surplus of funds has done a great job managing funds. Look around at neighboring fire agencies, are they in financial problems or do they have a nice surplus like EDH Fire? Maybe the Petersen's should become experts in the banking industry. Good luck in your endeavors.

  • Karen PardieckOctober 08, 2012 - 10:37 am

    I have been following the EDH Fire Board election closely as I am acquainted with Sherry and Craig Petersen. I was surprised at the comments made by Mr. Laird regarding the Poway Firefighter’s MOU, that he say’s puts them on equal terms with the EDH fire department. I think EDH is much better off than the Poway fire MOU. Here are the details of the MOUs and how they translate to actual salaries and budgets. Paramedic Captain monthly pay- step 5: EDH $9,113---Poway: $7,931 (15% less) Paramedic/Firefighter monthly pay -step 5: EDH $7,263--- Poway: $6.392 (14%less) Education/Longevity Pay Annually by Dept: EDH -$386,000---Poway-None Health Care Insurance - EDH: free for employee and dependents---Poway: free for employee, dependents pay 50% of premium cost Employee Pension Contribution - EDH: 3% of salary---Poway: 9% of salary Pension Calculation Formula - EDH: single highest year---Poway: last 3 years Retirement Age - EDH: 50 years---Poway: 50 years, but if hired after 12/2011 55 yrs. Retiree Health Care - EDH: free for life to employee and dependents---Poway: Capped, 401K and Health Saving Account used to fund retiree health care. After 25 yrs. of service total employer contribution equals $23,000 (compared to the $19,515 that EDH pays for health insurance for each firefighter annually) If EDH adopted the terms of the Poway MOU, it would save over $1 million dollars annually, not counting tremendous future retirement savings. That is not counting the $1.5M EDH Fire spends for overtime. Poway spends $9.5M compared to EDH $15M on fire services. When you just look at salary and benefits only, Poway spends $7.3M (58 employees) vs. EDH $12M (57 employees). Regarding your JPA comment, if you are correct when you say that the EDH Fire-JPA contract does not allow termination or re-negotiation, isn’t that an unusually poor business decision? I am dismayed that Mr. Laird did not include all the MOA statistics and facts and also surprised by his disregard of the fact that the Petersen’s are community residents who are concerned for the future of the firefighters and long term viability of EDHFD. His attack seemed personal, is that how community residents should be treated when they step up to do something for their community?

  • Val KudrisOctober 10, 2012 - 9:07 am

    In responding to Ghostwriter Laird’s comments, I also know the Petersen’s to be honest concerned citizens, running for the fire board, only to serve their community. You say they are running for personal gain, but since the position pays very little and they have no other political aspirations, that gain would only be assuring high quality emergency services in EDH now and into the future. This is a worthwhile gain for the entire community, including the firefighters. Contrary to your assertions, Sherrie did in fact work in healthcare during her years in the pharmaceutical industry. Among other activities, she worked with healthcare coalitions to measure and enhance the quality of medical care. The skills acquired in this work, as well as managing hundreds of millions of dollars of business, will serve her well in helping to assure the viability of emergency response services to EDH residents. You say that the Petersen’s have not educated themselves and have distorted the facts. They have actually spent hundreds of hours learning about the financial practices of the EDHFD, as well as dozens of other fire departments throughout the state. The comparisons between the EDHFD and other fire departments appear fair, well vetted, and the information is available for all to see on their web site. The distortion is actually your claims, including the one where you claim to be an RN. You should have educated yourself that the “R” in RN stands for registered. There is a national registry for RN’s and not a surprise, you’re not listed in it. You are not fooling any of the readers. Your true occupation is obvious. The self-serving motivation should be clear to all.

  • Jim MichaelsOctober 12, 2012 - 10:52 am

    As an outsider looking in(I live in south Placer County), i just wanted to say that in no way can your fire department in EDH bee compared to the one in Granite Bay. The dept here, which the Petersens use as a comparison model is in no way, shape or form what want your local dept to beccome. In the last 5 years we have had stations closed, engine companies browned out and positions lost. Today South Placer Fire operatess part-time engine companies. This is not amodelof success, we now have to rely on engine companies and ambulances from surrounding departments to pick up our slack, which, results in longer response times and much poorer customer servicE. Thesetwo fire entities are sovastly different that it really does the voters a mis-service to compare them. As a resident served by the spfd i do not wishfor anyone else to have the issues we have. Did anyone mention that its soo bad at South Placer that they have had CAL FIRE look into taking over? I know i am removed from the situation, but,i would hate to see people make their votingday decisions made on mis-information. In my opinion, for what its worth, stay with the fire department you have, downsizing means poorercustomer service, and as the tax-payers paying for that service you should get your money's worth.

  • Sheri McElroyOctober 27, 2012 - 10:04 am

    The PetersEns are ignorant and uneducated. They are uneducated about the EDH fire department's budget, contract and job in the community. They are LYING to the community by trying to pass themselves off as healthcare experts. A former nutritionist and healthcare executive ARE NOT experts. Sherry, in fact, tried to pass herself off as a nurse! Their ridiculous web site is based on a past contract that does not even exist anymore and comparisons on departments that are FAR different than EDH’s department. It’s comparing apples and oranges. However, they are betting on the general public, that does not educate themselves, that they will believe these facts are true. I love that they are trying to lead the public to believe that their figures are true when it is all based on lies. And REALLY, replacing fire trucks with utilities???? I can’t wait to see people’s reaction when they are having a massive heart attack and a utility shows up. I encourage people to go to a fire board meeting and listen to them talk. When people try to correct them on their incorrect facts and neither of them listen and want to refute facts that are true! What reality do they live in? To go out and promote themselves is fine but to bad mouth the fire department and its members, real classy! It's pretty obvious that they are "fat cats" who want to play the political game of crookedness and lies. People need to educate themselves and get to know the Petersens well. I sure have and they are not anyone I want to associate with! The clear wise choice is to vote for Hartley and Hidahl.

  • John PetersonOctober 27, 2012 - 11:59 pm

    You're a moron McElroy. The PetersEN's are far more educated and informed than you. You are likely another idiot fire person - greedy and self-interested, concerned primarily about discrediting anyone who you perceive as a threat to your ridiculously generous wage and benefit package. That's your motivation. What's more, with your substandard education, which amounts to little more than a few bone-head, untransferable community college classes, whenever you speak, you announce to everybody that a change to the fire board is in fact required. As a former fireman myself, with top-tier college education and work experience behind me, I can assure you and everyone else in the community, that each and every challenger (Peterson and Petersen's) are better leaders and far better financial mangers than anything the current fire board had to offer. Luckily, every time you people open your big mouth trying to insult any challengers, you show the community exactly what you're made of. If you people hadn't gotten so greedy in the first place, your community wouldn't have gotten fed up. Thanks to the Grand Jury report, which clearly outlined the fire dept and fire board's irresponsible spending behavior, the community has gotten involved. It's your own fault. Next time, instead of thinking about what's best for you and your own wallet, try thinking about what's best for the whole community.



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