Fire Commission approves 2020 Budget

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Chelan County Fire District #7 held its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, November 20 and opened its public comment period with Cathy Lemon telling the commissioners and firefighters how proud Tim was of them and how much he missed the District after leaving.

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Cathy Lemon visited the District to thank them for their
outpouring support over Tim’s passing. 

“My personal opinion,” said Lemon, “Is that paid and volunteer fire departments (normally) don’t work. But it works here.” She went on to say that because it works in Chelan, it makes the community safe. “Tim was a 24/7 fire chief here. He made this community his top priority. He loved this town.”

Mrs. Lemon went on to explain that Tim didn’t know he was sick. “He thought he had hurt his ribs,” she stated. The eventual prognosis was pancreatic cancer, which claimed Tim Lemon’s life shortly after that diagnosis.

“He loved you guys a lot. Thank you for reaching out tome. You really made his legacy.”

She was followed by a retired fire fighter who stated he was concerned about the District’s staffing. “What are the goals for moving forward staff,” he asked. “I’m really concerned about staffing. Is there anything in the plan for increasing staff.”

Commission Chair Russ Jones told him that was a part of discussion coming up regarding the upcoming budget.

Mayor Cooney, representing the Chelan Valley Housing Trust, stated that the house burn on Emerson this past Saturday was flawless. “It was an excellent job. We will look for more houses after this one helped us get started.” The location on Emerson is the first CVH Trust property for new affordable homes to be built on.

Jones noted that the audience at the meeting was up in attendance. “We don’t get a lotof input from the community,” said Jones. “The internet is not really a credible source.”

Chief’s report:

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Chief Mark Donnell

Chief Mark Donnell stated that October’s call volume was down. The District did respond to a barn fire up in Union Valley by the Rodeo grounds. “It was fully involved and there was considerable damage to property inside.”

District 7 also responded to a house fire in Manson. “It rekindled,” said Donnell. There was a disconnect and not a very good response from Manson crews. “We think it is a dispatch issue,” said Donnell.

The District responded to five fires, 35 rescue and emergency medical services, three hazardous conditions, two service calls, four good intent calls, six false alarms, and one special incident type call on the month of October.

Donnell talked about Time Out times and for E71, it is down to 2:22 from the time the call comes in and the truck is out the door. The hope is to reduce that time to 2 minutes flat. Time out time will differ depending on the station.

He reported that Brush 74 has a transmission issue and that John Goyne says it will cost around $3,600 to fix, so they will look for another chassis and get rid of this one which came from the DNR. “We’ve been contacted by the DNR and we are on the list.”

Donnell reported that there were 20,751 fire related deaths in the United States so far this year of which 46 were in Washington State. There was also $150 million in loss property from fire.

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Assistant Chief Brandon Asher

Assistant Chief Brandon Asher reported that he has recruited two more volunteers in Entiat, one for Station 72 and one for Station 71. “Hopefully we will get another guy for Station 75 (southshore). Recruitment is picking up.”

Asher stated that the District has lost one volunteer for performance issues. The Stipend Program has zero signed up for November, December and January. “We hope to change that.”

“The fire went well,” said Asher. “We had zero injuries and it went about as well as it could go.” Asher stated that Chelan, Manson, Entiat and Orondo were involved in the training. “That’s why we are getting grants,” said Asher who stated that regional efforts drive grants.

The Fire Fighters Association rasied $42,000 at their Fire Gala with $18,000 going to a dedicated fund to help the District with need purchases with the caveat that the District match that funding.

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Budget public hearing:

 Chief Donnell went through the budget and reminded everyone that the actual dollars presented on the budget was a moving target. Tax Revenue for 2020 is based on the one percent increase over the 2019 budgeted tax revenue at $2,069,494.00. Revenue from new construction is anticipated to be $44,713.00 and other sources will remain at $10,000.00 unless 2020 brings State Mobilization money from fire activity.

The District’s starting fund is $600,000. After District expenses, the ending balance should be $664,134.00 with a desired carry over of $600,00 in 2021. Uncommitted funds would be $64,134.00.

He started his presentation with the District’s 2020 Organizational Goals as follows:

  • Training;
  • Community Relations;
  • Staff Retention;
  • Future Funding; and
  • Measurable Goals
    a. Turnout times down to two minutes
    b. Retaining an effective workforce for critical tasks
    c. Fire loss versus Fire Valuation
    d. Fiscal responsibility to manage budget
    e. Maintain a clean annual audit.

Donnell explained that the District is responsible for 125 square miles of territory and that only one station is staffed full time with two firefighters.

He also said that insurance could go up because of the losses in California. “Insurance companies are beginning to say they won’t insure because they don’t want to take the risk.”

Donnell stated that that the Department requests an audit by the State yearly instead of every three years.

This year, Donnell said, “The community loves the fact there was no smoke in the valley, but we had zero dollars come in from State Mobilizations. This has an affect on our budget.”

He said the District has designated $102,000 on Capital Projects for 2020 as follows:

  • Administration
    Server Replacement                              $5,000.00
    Lock change out                                     $3,000.00
  • Suppression Equipment
    PF Equipment Request                         $4,000.00
    Structural Protective Clothing            $6,000.00
    Wildland Protective Clothing              $8,000.00
    Dormitory Improvements                  $13,000.00
  • Training
    Props (Station 74)                                   $5,000.00
    Rescue Swimmer Gear                          $2,000.00
  • Fleet
    Scan Tool Kit                                           $6,000.00

Donnell told the commissioners that the IT bids for a new server services came in significantly higher than anticipated.

He said that wildland gear purchases would be spread over two years.

No tax revenue will be coming into the District until May.

Commissioner Jones said there have been comments about having a seventh career firefighter but that it actually saves the District money on overtime. “The math works out when we don’t have to pay overtime,” said Jones. When a career firefighter is on leave, or out of district training, or sick, the seventh career firefighter steps into take that position over.

The Commissioners signed the budget resolution with a one percent increase as allowed by law. That additional one percent will bring in an additional $75,000 based on annual valuation. “The perception is that when valuations go up, our revenues go up. That isn’t the case,” said Jones. “It doesn’t make a lot of difference for our revenue.”

Jones said the commission will begin to look at what the District needs when it approaches 2022 and the SAFER grant disappears.

Jones asked commission candidate elect Karyl Oules if she had any questions or concerns with the 2020 budget. She stated that Chief Donnell satisfied her 16 bullet points. “He covered everyone for me,” said Oules.

The District tested three career candidates to take the retiring Evan Woods place and Taylor Raines was promoted and pinned at the meeting on Wednesday. His wife, Samantha, did the pinning and he was congratulated by the Chief and Russ Jones.

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Commissioners Phil Moller and Russ Jones will be joined by either Karyl Oules or Bill Bassett after the Chelan County Assessor certifies the election. At this time it looks as Karyl Oules is the winner of that seat. 

Commissioner comments:

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Commission Chair Russ Jones

Jones commented that a lot of people offer their perspective over social media. “I think our budget meeting was pretty transparent,” said Jones. “One hour after that meeting I had a threatening email. People are too willing to hide behind a keyboard. There is no hidden agenda and my hope is that in the future we see more people providing input.”

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