Chelan Fire District to hold Town Hall on Tuesday evening, April 16

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Chelan Fire and Rescue Commissioners held a long term planning meeting on Thursday, March 28, to discuss a number of long term issues facing the District.

The major decision for the residents within the District boundaries is to hold a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, April 16, at the Senior Community Center (if available). This meeting will, in essence, give the public a chance to learn more about the District’s issues including:

  • Staffing
  • Finance
  • Apparatus
  • Succession Plans

Commissioner Phil Moller brought up the idea of holding a Town Hall meeting. Commissioner Jay Witherbee said, “I don’t even know if there is a group that will show up… we might end up with an empty room.” Chairman Russ Jones stated that there is a lot of interest in the District, and its workings.

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Commissioner Phil Moller

City Councilman Ray Dobbs was present and told the commission that he feels the District, like the City Council, mostly work in a “closed circle.”

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City Councilman Ray Dobbs attended the  District’s planning meeting and encouraged the Commissioners to be transparent with District residents.

“At City Council we are trying to get the community involved with what we are doing,” said Dobbs. “A Town Hall gives you the chance to go outside of that circle.” One of Dobbs’ biggest issues at the Council level is to get information out to the public so they know what is going on.

Witherbee said a Town Hall would give the District a chance to share its Succession Plan and the reason for it.

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Commissioner Jay Witherbee

Jones said that the District would most likely be seeking a bond levy in 2022 for a number of reasons. Chief Tim Lemon, who is retiring at the end of this year, said the District will lose $220,000 at the end of 2021. “We will drop down to one chief and there will be different responsibilities for the staff.”

Witherbee said the public meeting should share a budgetary Spread Sheet with the public so they know where the District stands financially in the future. Jones added that it would be a good idea to have a discussion with the public about funding. Moller added that the District needs to be transparent and at least give the Public an opportunity to chime in.

Witherbee said the District should adopt a budget for 2019/20/21. “I don’t think we can demonstrate to the citizens of where we are,” said Witherbee.

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Commission Chairman Russ Jones

Jones stated that if the District doesn’t have additional funding it will have to cut personnel. “We truly need a long range plan.” Witherbee replied, “We really need to demonstrate to the community where we are going.”

The District is growing. Each career firefighter costs the taxpayer $.05 cents/thousand to cover salary and benefits. Add in funding to replace aging apparatus and miscellaneous dollars to generate $500,000 would cost the taxpayer approximately $.20 cents/thousand.

“That’s a conversation I’d like to start with the community,” said Jones. Moller added that the District has a compelling story to tell.

Jones stated that most taxpayers don’t understand the District can only increase its funding by one percent and despite growing property values, that one percent by law to the District does not increase like it does at the School District or in the City coffers. “We don’t’ get increased revenue,” said Jones.

Regarding the potential of one chief, Moller said, “I would hate to see us go backwards and have only one chief. Assistant Chief Brandon Asher who is being paid through a Safer Grant stated that dropping back to one chief scares him.

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Assistant Chief Brandon Asher (center)

Currently, with Lemon retiring, the Chief’s position is up for grabs with Deputy Chief Mark Donnell has thrown his hat in the ring to replace Lemon. The Commission’s desire is to hire within because it makes sense to continue with someone familiar with the District’s operation instead of spending money to recruit outside of the District.

Chief Lemon said he would like to see Asher retained along with Donnel. Regarding recruiting, Lemon stated it would cost the District $20,000 to $24,000 to a recruiting agency. “How much time and money do we spend,” he asked. “Also, a new person coming in would be a change and disruption. I have full confidence in those two guys.”

“Do we have candidates inside that are interested,” asked Moller. “I haven’t heard.”

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Deputy Chief Mark Donnell has declared his interest in becoming the new Chief of the District when Lemon retires.

Donnell said, “I am the candidate.” He also stated that a new outsider would take up to nine months to get up to speed. “We have a qualified staff.” Donnell added that the idea of a succession plan is nice, but not everyone is going to be happy with it.

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Chief Tim Lemon 

The Chief shared the District’s methodology regarding apparatus. “We have a rating sheet based on use, mileage and age,” said Lemon. Moller asked about putting money aside so funds are available when new equipment is needed. Jones stated the District should put $20,000 into an apparatus account each year. “That’s the current plan.”

Lemon said the District has done well with its apparatus. “Some is new, some are new build outs and some are used with low miles,” said Lemon. “We need to make sure they (staff) have the right tools.”

The April 16 meeting will allow the community to learn more about the District and its needs, and will be able to ask questions.

 

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