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Fire district’s 2015 draft budget taps $700K in reserves

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Fire district’s 2015 draft budget taps $700K in reserves

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By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Report

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The Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District’s draft budget for 2015 dips in to reserves to the tune of approximately $700,000 and also for the first time spells out in easy-to-understand language where some of the funds are, and aren’t, going.

Example: The deputy chief of operations proposed increasing the number of full time firefighter/EMTs from three to four per shift, but at an annual cost of $240,000 the staffing increase will not be funded. But, at an estimated cost of $90,000, the budget calls for a new master plan as recommended by last summer’s citizen task force.

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For folks who might want to preview the draft budget before the district board’s public hearing on Nov. 12, those kind of narratives are included in reports from the district’s five divisions: Operations, Administration, Maintenance, Training and Prevention.

“The reports … are excellent and include the specifics I requested,” said board member Carl Smith in a six-page memo he issued in early October. “This information, in my opinion, is beneficial to both the board, the public, staff and volunteers … .”

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Smith is the newest fire district board member after being elected, along with incumbents Gene Schilling and Michael Kennedy, last April.

The April board election followed the defeat of a fire district property tax hike ballot question in 2014 that led to the creation of the citizen task force that met several times and issued a list of recommendations in August.

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Smith memo includes at least one, big-ticket cost-cutting proposal. He suggests the district not replace one of its four ambulances, which runs counter to a staff proposal to the citizen task force. He points out the district bought its fourth ambulance in 2002 to serve the west end but the ambulance is no longer stationed there. He said that on only one call in 2014 did the district use three ambulances and it’s not clear whether mutual aid with other fire districts was involved. “Over the past 20 years Glenwood, Basalt and Carbondale have assisted each other during many difficulties … We could to it again. Do we really need 4 ambulances?” Smith also points out there are many costs associated with owning an ambulance, whether it’s used or not, including maintenance of cardiac monitors, plus medical supplies and medications that expire. His memo states that replacing an ambulance would cost $150,000 and replacing out-of-date cardiac monitors for the fourth ambulance would cost about $35,000.

Smith questions whether the district needs its communications trailer, which can be set up in emergencies and be used by responders. There are on-going expenses associated with the trailer, which is sometimes loaned to municipalities for events such as Carbondale Mountain Fair. “How often is it needed, not just used as a convenience,” Smith said. “If it is truly a community asset have we approached the Town of Carbondale, the Town of Marble and Garfield, Gunnison and Pitkin Counties to share in the maintenance expenses?”

The memo also touches on ISO ratings (which some insurance companies use to set fire insurance rates), staffing, reserves, revenues and more. On page two of the memo he points out that board member pay is listed as $8,000 for 2015 and said he will continue to serve as a volunteer to meet the “Volunteer Spirit” motto of the fire district. “I would like to see the rest of the Board join me in this effort … These funds could be dedicated by the Board members for Personal Protective Equipment for volunteers at rural stations,” an expenditure which is not currently funded in the draft budget.

Highlights in the draft budget itself include a decrease of about $78,000 in wages ($1.3 million in 2015 compared to $1,38 million in 2014).

The draft budget for 2015 calls for $1.9 million in revenues and $2.6 million in expenditures.

As per state statue, the fire district mill levy must be approved by the district board of directors and certified by county commissioners by Dec. 15.

Founded in 1953, the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District covers 320 square miles in parts of Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison counties. There are 19 paid staffers and 68 volunteers, according to the district website.

Next steps

• What: Public hearing for the Carbondale Fire District’s 2015 budget;

• When: 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 12;

• Where: the Carbondale fire station, 300 Meadowood Drive.

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