By Richard Uhlhorn
Chelan County Fire District #7 (Chelan Fire & Rescue) held a special meeting on Thursday, March 6 to disseminate information concerning the department.
Board Chairman Russ Jones announced that Chief Tim Lemon will be retiring at the end of the year. After the meeting, Lemon stated that he had agreed to serve the District for 10 years and that this was the tenth year of his tenure at Fire Chief. “We decided that it was time to enjoy our lives while we are still healthy,” said Lemon.
The District will begin its search for a new chief this coming Fall. “We will get through the summer before addressing that position,” said Lemon. Deputy Chief Donnell’s position is being eliminated at the end of the year, but he will be able to apply for the Chief’s position when it becomes available.
The District has budgeted the funds to replace Administrative Assistant Faye Barker when she retires at the end of March. Jones stated that her position was important enough to move forward with a new hire to fill it. Commissioner Jay Witherbee was not in favor of moving ahead.
“What are our priorities,” asked Witherbee? He is reluctant to hire for the position because the long term planning is not finished and the person who is retained might be let go because of budgetary reasons. “They are people,” said Witherbee. “I take the responsibility of hiring or dismissing someone seriously. I’m not suggesting we eliminate the position, just delaying it for a short while.”
Commissioner Phil Moller agreed with Witherbee, but was willing to go forward with the replacement because of the day to day business that Barker was handling. “So I support replacing that position,” said Moller.
The motion to replace Barker passed with Jones and Moller voting yes and Witherbee voting no.
Staffing issues continue to be discussed and Commissioner Jones stated that the District needs to strategize for two or three years down the road on running any kind of Bond for the department. “My opinion is that in two years we will be ready to go.”
The Safer grand funds that are keeping Chief Brandon Asher employed run out in 2021. His job is recruitment of volunteers for Orondo, Entiat and Chelan.
The District is headed towards a $254,000 shortfall and has zero money for apparatus replacement. Most of the District’s apparatus is 30 years old and in constant need of maintenance. “This is the exact example of what I’m talking about,” said Moller.
Jones stated that the one percent cap placed on the District is a broken funding model. Unlike the School District that sees its revenues go up when property taxes go up, the District is capped and can’t collect more than what the voters gave them in the last levy. “It is what it is,” said Jones, “but we can’t survive this way. It’s going to be tough one.” Jones figures that 2022 will be the earliest the District can go back to the public because of the Hospital and proposed School bond.
“We need to be working on it now so the community knows why we need to get there.”
Jones made a statement at the end of the meeting to the fire fighter personnel at the end of the meeting. “I just want you to know that the notion that the commission meetings are contentious isn’t true… stressful, yes, but not contentious. It is a tougher job than I ever imagined..’
Moller added that he is serving for the community and respecting what the community wants. “I want to do what the community wants us to do,” he said. Witherbee had no comment at the end of the meeting.
Jones said that the District needs to be more active with the other districts. “We need to get around to the other Districts.”