Brevard Co. Mosquito Control….Out of Control!
Last August, ‘EYEONBREVARD‘ reported on how Brevard County tax payers got buzzed when a 3-2 vote in favor of purchasing two new helicopters on a no-bid contract for Mosquito Control to the tune of $6.5 million dollars.
In our effort to analyze the Mosquito Department helicopter operations, we requested all relevant operational data. We were given the individual flight & maintenance log sheets from 2010, 2011 and partial data from 2012 because we were told it was the only way the information existed. This data was inputed into spreadsheets so that we could analyze the operations which included pilot flight time, maintenance down time, spraying days, spraying nights, and off days.
We held conversations with Lee County, one of the largest mosquito districts in Florida and a few other neighboring counties to find out how they handled mosquito control and what equipment they used. We met with aviation executives, helicopter pilots, and those involved in the aviation pesticide business. We consulted with experts on larvaciding vs. adulticiding and learned a great deal on the hazards of Dibrom. www.chem-tox.com/brevard/main.htm
Additionally, we put together a cost analysis based on the County’s data that we examined and came to a much different conclusion than the County regarding the cost of two new helicopters. We found that under our computations, made in accordance with the principles of financial analysis, it will cost Brevard County an additional $7 million dollars over the next 12 years to purchase these two new helicopters vs. maintaining the current fleet of three helicopters. Factored into that cost, and absent in the County’s financial estimates was the interest, principle, and depreciation of the two new helicopters over the life of the loan, the assets being purchased and employed, and which considered County management’s estimated changes in maintenance costs.
Another very eye opening statistic revealed by the spreadsheets we assembled was just how little pilots actually had the helicopters in the air. Keep in mind that if you worked a 40-hour work week for 52 weeks, the total hours would come to 2,080 plus an additional 800 hours of overtime. The amount of actual recorded flying time for two pilots per year was as follows:
- Bell Helicopter P33, 79 hours
- Bell Helicopter P29, 53 hours
- A-Star Helicopter P30, 65 hours
Total of 197 hours for ‘two’ pilots
- Bell Helicopter P33, 55 hours
- Bell Helicopter P29, 52 hours
- A-Star Helicopter P30, 30 hours
Total of 137 hours for ‘two’ pilots
In September the BCCC requested a meeting with the County so that we could discuss and perhaps resolve the sizable discrepancy between our analysis and conclusions, and the claims made by the Mosquito Control Department. A two hour meeting was granted to us on September 24th in which five members of our team met with ten members representing County management. Those in attendance were Mr. Tipton-County Manger, Mel Scott- Assistant County Manager, County Communication Director, two representatives from Lunsford Air Consulting, the sales representative from Eurocopter, and members of the Mosquito Control staff including the director, pilots, mechanics, biologist, and accountant. Also in attendance was a reporter from Florida Today.
During the first part of the meeting, Craig Simmons, Director of Mosquito Control, once more went over the presentation he gave to the County Commissioners, trying to justify the helicopter purchase. Heated discussions took place when we challenged them on their contradictory numbers and flawed analysis. Rather than proceeding with the rest of the presentation for the second half of the meeting, we began by asking them questions regarding their claims of reducing the county’s cost of fuel, chemicals, maintenance, contracted services, and reduction of the helicopter down time. In the end we realized that no one was interested in listening to us. Mr. Tipton summed up and ended our meeting by saying “From a business case perspective, it was the right way to go.” To further cement his statement, one week later Mr. Tipton had stated in the County Fall Newsletter that “the Mosquito Control team put together the best business cases that I’ve seen in a long time”. (See the end of this article for his five point and two statement reasoning from that article and our rebuttal.)
As frustrating as the meeting was for us, it was not a complete waste of time. We learned some key facts:
* Eurocopter is NOT taking Brevard County’s old helicopters on trade-in as represented by County management and that Eurocopter had only committed to ‘help’ the County to sell them. This is a key issue because the county has stated that they expect to get $2.2 million in trade for the current fleet net expenses plus the sale of unnecessary replacement parts. Do an internet search on ‘used helicopters’ and see how many are out there for sale. Given the high inventory of used helicopters and parts, it’s high unlikely that any thing close to $2.2 million will be realized for the sale let alone when the sale will occur.
* Maintenance spends a lot of time waiting for the bid process to complete when a new part or repair is needed. This results in an extra ordinary amount of down time that fed into the assumption that the helicopters were grounded 58% of the time.
* The county failed to make a clear and convincing case that the purchase of two new helicopters would be a sound, fiscally responsible decision.
The Spending Continues and the Amount of Projected Savings Dwindle
Unfortunately, we were never able to schedule a promised follow-up meeting. However, we don’t believe that it would have changed anything if we did. Shortly thereafter, the County Commissioners approved using commercial paper for the next 12 years to complete this purchase for $6.5 million. Using commercial paper, whose maturity is less than one year, and is rolled over every six(6) months for 12 years, enables the government to circumvent the referendum process. The Florida Constitution, Article 7, Section 12, requires a public referendum when any project is bonded using ad-valorum taxes, and the bond maturity is greater than one year. So even if the majority of citizens objected to the purchase, County government found a way to prevent the Brevard taxpayer from voicing their opinion via public referendum.
But, the insanity does not stop here. We learned about two more related costs presented at the January County Commission board meeting that made us even more perplexed. And although the amount of money may be a drop in the bucket compared to $6.5 million already committed, it shows how little concern there is for spending tax dollars.
The first item was for an Electrical Systems Training course for two mechanics to attend in January. 2013. Total registration cost was $3,770.00 per employee and an estimated $2,948.00 for travel, bringing that to a whopping total of $10,488.00 for training. The helicopters are not due until this fall, so why would they be sending them for training so far in advance of the helicopters being delivered? Will they even remember anything they learned?
The second item was for approval of travel expenses incurred by the mechanic for a trip to Arrow Aviation in Broussard, Louisiana. The reason for this trip was so that the mechanic could inspect the Bell 206 helicopter P-29 fuselage and confirm that no additional damage was sustained during the transport of the aircraft. So hold on here folks, now we have to fix the old helicopters before we can sell them?? This is one of the reasons why the County wanted to purchase new helicopters, to reduce the maintenance costs. We are currently investigating what is the scope of work that has to be done and what it will be costing us. Why did they chose a company in Louisiana and could the work have been done in Florida? Were there bids from other companies? And finally, why did we have to pay premium price for an airline ticket because it was booked just the day before flight? Would anyone in private industry do such a thing unless it was an emergency?
So what does all this mean to the tax payers of Brevard? Cha-ching!! Big Time!!
The Brevard Co. Coalition challenges Mr. Tipton’s statement that this was a solid business case. In fact, it was a very flawed business case. We found that no attempt was made by the county staff to engage a professional consultant to advise the County on the purchases, nor did the County staff obtain cost comparisons on contracting out the spray service, refurbishing the existing fleet, or as is the industry practice, buying used rather than new helicopters. Nor were any comparisons made comparing fixed wing aircraft to rotary wing helicopters. Neighboring counties and aerial spray contractors effectively use fixed wing aircraft which are a fraction of the cost to purchase and operate and are eight times safer to operate. Our investigations show that Brevard Mosquito Control owned and operated a fixed wing Thrush S2R-G6 which they sold in 2010. This aircraft only had 435 hours of operating time before it was sold. It was modified and outfitted to spray dry granule insecticides as well as wet insecticides. It also had a fire gate that enabled it to be used for fire fighting. At the time of sale it was listed to be in excellent shape, was appraised at $422,390 and yet sold only for $380,000. We have not been successful in finding out why this airplane was suddenly put out of service and put up for sale.
It seems that Mosquito Control loves rotary winged helicopters rather than fixed wing aircraft. Why else would Brevard County have failed to consider doing more larvaciding rather than adulticiding, a process being made by many of our neighboring Florida counties. Larvaciding is treating the mosquitoes before they can mature, breed and fly, resulting in a higher percentage of mosquito kill rate. It is friendlier to our environment that the use of Dibrom, a toxic, carcinogenic chemical banned for use even in our own state parks.
The Mosquito Control Department has operated for four years with huge deficits. Beginning in 2002 through 2012, expenditures have exceeded revenues by $11,205,209.00. Mosquito Control budgets have little relation to the actual operational figures. It would appear the County Commissioners would be better served if they did a management analysis on this department and bring it back in line with revenues and not further burden taxpayers with unnecessary indebtedness.
With our frustrations high after our meeting with Mr. Tipton in September, we attempted to make appointments with each of the Commissioners to share our findings but the only two who would meet with us were Trudie Infantini and Andy Anderson. To the Commissioners who would not meet with us, we left or sent our briefings but we were never contacted by them nor did they show any interest. You would think they would have at least have been curious to learn more if not very concerned.
Our Rebuttal to Their Arguments.
Although we have reams of data that we could share with you, we decided to just post our rebuttal to the five key benefits and two additional statements that were made by Mr. Tipton justifying the purchases.
Brevard Co. Citizens Coalition rebuttal points are in italics and proceeded with an *
Mr. Tipton: The Mosquito Control Team put together a solid business case to replace all three helicopters with two new ones with the benefits of:
1. Reducing Air Operations Costs by a Projected $574,000 per Year
* Under computations made in accordance with the principles of financial analysis, it will cost Brevard County more than $7 million dollars over the next 12 years to purchase two new helicopters vs. retaining the current fleet of three. That cost factors in interest, principle and depreciation over the life of loan and the assets purchased and considers their estimated changes in maintenance costs.
* The sales of the old fleet and Bell parts inventory for $2.2 million is not a guaranteed sales and is subject to market conditions. Eurocopter clarified that they will only ‘assist’ in the sale of the old fleet but will not guarantee the sale price. Any sale price will need to factor in the cost of major overhauls scheduled to be made over the next three to five years.
* The Brevard County Citizens Coalition has determined Mosquito Control over estimated their cost justifications:
– The cost of chemical & fuel savings
– Chemical costs are a function of acreage sprayed not the equipment used to spray.
– Brevard County inflated chemical costs to $520,000, actual is $55,000
– The savings in regards to maintenance on the older fleet.
-The county lumped the 12 & 15 year inspection costs into a four year period,
inflating the figures by over $650,000 per year.
2. Being More Efficient by Having Greater Capacity for Carrying Chemicals which allows for Greater Mosquito Killing Effectiveness:
* No analysis has been offered that supports this statement. The effectiveness of killing mosquitoes is a function of laying the proper amount of chemical on the properly identified mosquito infestation. Lift capacity only enables the operator to carry more chemicals and fuel allowing longer periods of operation. This could yield a modest savings in operational costs by reducing the number of sorties required to spray the same acreage, but it does not kill more mosquitoes or spray more acreage. If this were a requirement, fixed wing aircraft offers three times the load capacity at 1/3 of the cost of helicopters.
3. Reducing the need for Contracted Services by Increasing the County’s Aircraft Availability.
* This assumes that the two new aircraft will always be available and will be more reliable than the current fleet of three helicopters.
* The cost of contracted services is grossly inflated. Over the last 10 years, contracted services were only used once to spray 25,000 acres at a cost of $21,000. There is no rational basis to estimate contracted services will cost $100,000 for the two new helicopters and $182,000 for the current fleet.
4. Increasing our Firefighting Capabilities on Wildfires with Greater Lift Capacity
* In the past two years, MC has assisted in firefighting for 1.5 hours of flight time.
* It takes a substantial amount of practice to hone the skill of fighting fires through water drops. There is no evidence that this skill has been cultivated or required for any substantial period of time.
* A more efficient use of county resources would be realized by relinquishing the aerial fire fighting mission to the Sheriff’s department.
5. Providing a safe environment for our pilots and ultimately our citizens.
* Does this mean that Brevard Co. has not been operating safely for employees and residents?
* If safety is a real concern – fixed wing aircraft is 8X more reliable than single engine helicopters.
* Pilots are still operating a single engine helicopter and are always subject tot the risks associated with single engine craft. There is no protection in the event of an engine, transmission or blade failure.
* New equipment is not equipped with pop out floats or night vision equipment.
* Pilots report for duty at 6:30 a.m., work until 2:00 p.m. and are then scheduled to fly the same night. The majority of MC required spraying is at night, after dusk.
* There are many health concerns of spraying with Dibrom.
H. Tipton: “The fleet was getting older.”
* Aircraft are based on hours flown, not age of the craft itself.
* The U.S. Air Force is still flying B52′s built in 1960 and Delta is currently rebuilding older aircrafts to add to their fleet.
* The age of aircraft is based on the past TBO (Time Before Overhaul) and number of hours until the next one.
* The price of used aircraft is a function of the number of hours before the next TBO.
H. Tipton: “Grounded 58% of the time in the past 24 months which caused them to use contracted services to fill a void at a higher cost than the county could do it for.”
* Maintenance records show the current fleet has been grounded 10.4% due to problems on the aircraft.
* No clear definition of what “grounding” means by the county.
* Grounding caused by any number of reasons included waiting for three bids on parts, contractors availability, change or repair of spray equipment and downtime of aircraft during the 6-8 months when mosquitoes are out of season.
The Brevard County Citizens Coalition have determined the county’s business case seriously flawed and that the contract should be canceled until further analysis is done.
We apologize for the length of this article but we felt there was so much you needed to know. Now that you have some of the facts, we ask that you decide if the purchase of these two new helicopters to the tune of $6.5 million dollars was a wise decision. This year they will try to convince you that they have cut spending to the bone and will have to raise the millage rates. Now you will know the truth rather than the fiction.