Of boats and budgets

A handful of islanders – mainly Orcas Island Fire and Rescue staff and volunteers – showed up to an evening meeting at the Eastsound station on Nov. 12. Several key items on the agenda were finalizing the 2013 budget and discussing the Sheriff’s public safety vessel grant.

“This has been one of the most discussed and modified budgets we have considered,” said Commissioner Jim Coffin. “I am very comfortable with what we have.”

The 2013 operations budget was revised from $1,619,723 to $1,587,053 in order to maintain the same budget as last year. The estimated revenue for 2013 is $2,103,100 and the estimated revenue from 2012 is $2,059,600.

The budget includes these main components: legislative: $47,895; employees and administration: $861,045; operations: $225,800; public education: $13,925; fire marshal: $53,600; training: $74,990; facilities: $72,800; maintenance: $116,270; EMS ambulance and operations: $73,528; communications: $47,200; bond payment: $0 ($184,400 was paid last year); capital projects: $300,000. Upgrades and replacements for equipment under capital projects include a pickup truck, radios, a telephone system, computers and software and a medical device called a glidescope.

Additions to this year’s budget include $50,000 toward volunteer and career staff medical benefits and $13,000 to increase the volunteer response stipend from $15 per alarm to $20, for a total increase of $63,000.

Here are some other highlights of the operations budget:

- upgrades to the mandated incident reporting system

– improvements to public communications and mandated training programs

– a full-time mechanic/firefighter/EMT position, which replaces the part-time mechanic and the part-time responder position.

– adding a part-time public information/human resources/administrative support position.

“Through the process, we rolled up our sleeves, sharpened our pencils and were able to trim many areas of the budget allowing us to reallocate funding to components of training and operational development that will result in improvements to our service for the people of Orcas Island while exercising fiscal accountability,” said Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien.

After finalizing the budget, the commissioners moved on to discuss the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office recent announcement that it has been awarded a Federal Port Security Grant of up to $785,000 to acquire an emergency response boat to be available to fire agencies and emergency medical services as well as law enforcement.

Commissioner Barbara Bedell was concerned that the recent press release, (Sounder edition, Nov. 14 ) made it sound like OIFR and the Sheriff’s Office were all in agreement, but nothing has been decided yet.

O’Brien volunteered the idea to hold a meeting to receive ideas and create a discussion about the vessel with the community.

Coffin added that he wanted to expand the discussion not just to the public safety vessel, but for input on various activity outside of the district, especially when it comes to on-water transport. The commissioners set a date for the meeting on Jan. 9, 5 p.m. at the Eastsound Fire Hall.

Coffin said that OIFR would be happy to contribute personnel and equipment to a “sister agency,” but not fund something entirely.

“Paying the sheriff for transporting ALS patients off-island when they can’t fly I’d like to think has saved some lives,” said Coffin commenting on the importance of having a safer vessel.

He then asked the question: What is the difference between individuals paying for a sheriff boat transport and paying for a helicopter transport? He also mentioned that a solution might be to have the sheriff bill patients for transport.

O’Brien said that early ballpark figures point to about 20,000 in 2013 and up to 23,680 in 2015 for a financial obligation by the OIFR in regards to the new vessel. He added that patients transported by boat are as follows: eight in 2010, three in 2011, and three in 2012.

Commissioner Clyde Duke, who attended the meeting via teleconference, said basically OIFR needs time to consider the situation.

“The voters should be engaged,” he said. “We’re changing the game a bit.”

The last item discussed was Rick Anda’s recent request for retirement from his position as financial officer. OIFR is currently looking for his replacement.

“We will miss him in a big way,” said O’Brien.

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