On Oct. 28, at the third of four Orcas Island Fire District (OIFD) meetings to determine the proposed 2009 budget, fire commissioners, Chief Mike Harris and Captain Rick Anda spent more than an hour listening and responding to public questions and ideas.
Although the meeting agenda was primarily to review the capital expenditures segment of the budget, the discussion included a wide range of topics including operational expenses and revenue discussed at prior meetings, the history surrounding the 1999 levy, the fire safety officer position and the quality and components of dispatch. OIFD personnel, commissioners and the public all proposed and evaluated cost-savings ideas.
Harris responded to a question regarding future levies, saying, “There will not be the need for a levy at the expense of the current one after 2014. There will still be a need for an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy, but trust me, not at the cost of the current one. The capital improvements the levy supported will not be needed.”
When asked about the cost of maintaining the Deer Harbor Station, Harris said, “We are not at the point in the building process at Deer Harbor that we can determine the monthly upkeep and maintenance on the station. We think we will be closer to having that information when we have the architectural plans.”
Leith Templin expressed her concerns about the OIFD salaries, the budget and the current economy, which were included in a letter submitted to the fire commissioners. “With the loss of all the jobs that our community is currently experiencing, I believe you should consider freezing the salaries for the coming year or at the very least [keeping them to] a maximum of 2 percent COLA [cost of living.]… At a time when the community is getting hit hard with raised property taxes and cutting back wherever we can, it is a slap in the face to many of our community members for our fire department tax dollars to be paying for health club memberships.”
At the conclusion of the discussion, in which a number of the public expressed concern over the number of capital expenditures planned by the OIFD during a time of county, state and country belt-tightening, Harris recommended that the construction of a burn training tower at Station 21 [Eastsound] budgeted for $31,000 be eliminated from this year’s budget.
Anda, the OIFD Financial Officer, said after the meeting, “With all of the capital expenses planned for next year with Deer Harbor, the engines and the rescue vehicle, it makes sense for us to watch all the funding and push this major capital expense out a year or so to make sure that we have enough in reserve.
“We are spending more than we are taking in this year but we have been putting money in savings for the past several years. We are using the money for what it was intended,” Anda said.
The 2009 Capital Expenditure Budget items that remain in the budget are apparatus upgrades and replacements for $918,000 and the building of the Deer Harbor Station for $670,000. Included in the apparatus subsection are the purchases of the four Darley mini pumpers for $851,000, the Darley rescue rig for $57,000 and the purchase of a scoping device for the ambulance at $10,000.
In reviewing changes to the operating expense proposed budget since the Sept. 3 OIFD meeting, Anda noted a $10,000 increase in vehicle maintenance required to modify the new fire engines to accommodate a stretcher or backboard. Harris notified the commissioners that he had that day received a letter from the Sheriff’s Department raising dispatch fees for all the fire districts by $5,000. Harris indicated that he was going to attempt to negotiate the increase with the Sheriff’s Department. “What do we get for our dispatch dollar and is it consistent? That’s the basis of our negotiating power,” Harris said.
In old business, Harris asked for and received unanimous approval to enter into a contract to buy the new ambulance from Pacific Emergency Vehicles, Inc. for $125,000. The price includes a $4,000 rebate.
This was not the lowest bid received but after testing the three vehicles, Harris said it was the one preferred by the OIFD personnel despite its larger size. “While this rig is taller and longer than our current vehicle, it turns sharper and has all the medical components that we need. With that in mind, we felt that we could live with the additional size. This new ambulance will allow us to place our oldest ambulance, a 1997 vehicle, at the new Deer Harbor Station,” Harris said.
Copies of the Draft 2009 budget are available at the Fire Station for members of the public to review before the final 2009 Budget Public Hearing on Nov. 11. It is expected that the district will present the final version to the county following that meeting.