The board of directors of your elected body for the Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District feel we need to respond to a Snowmass firefighter's commentary written to the local papers.
First of all we, the elected board of directors for the fire district, take the responsibility of providing all of you in our district the best possible public safety with utmost seriousness and dedication. All of us on the board are longtime members of the Snowmass Village community, and four of the five members have lived the experience of being a firefighter/first responder. We all take pride in our fire protection district and therefore want to ensure the community and district staff alike feel safe and confident that the district holds the well-being of the community and staff as the highest priorities.
In order to have a productive dialogue moving forward, the board feels that there are several issues that require some context and clarification.
On Jan. 31, the board of directors received via email, two Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District grievance forms from unknown sources. The cover email claimed: "One hundred percent of the career Firefighters, Paramedics, and Engineers of SWFPD support the request for department wide communication using a mediator to improve District health."
The grievance process is not the proper avenue for disagreement with administrative policy decisions. Additionally, there were no signatures of identification on any of these documents. Subsequently, the issue was placed on the agenda of the next board meeting on Feb. 26. Following the printing of the Snowmass firefighter's commentary in The Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun, the board has learned there is far from 100 percent support among the Snowmass firefighters regarding the issues the firefighter listed.
Community's safety and staff turnover - The Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District experiences the same challenges facing any mountain resort employer. Experienced employees from large urban areas face challenges adjusting to the mountain resort way of life and the sacrifices required. Subsequently, when we hire someone local, the district spends several years training that employee up to necessary standards.
As board members, we support the administration's attempt to balance both methods in maintaining a qualified staff. The Snowmass firefighter's statement that "deteriorating labor-management relations have led to a very high turnover rate within the department" has not been validated through the many letters and exit interviews from the personnel who have left the district, which speak otherwise. Most of these communications speak to how grateful and positive these past employees have found the experience during their time as employees of the district.
Communication - The district holds monthly meetings, which are open to the public and regularly attended by firefighters on shift. This would be an appropriate venue to openly discuss issues and concerns. Also, the board is always available to anyone within the district who might have concerns, whether they are called at home, emailed or seen around the community. We believe the administrative staff and chief officers maintain an open door to hear concerns of district personnel.
Fiduciary concerns - Our responsibility to manage district finances could not be more important, and it's one we take very seriously. The recent three mill-levy adjustment that was supported by the community in the November election was requested due to a 27.23 percent reduction of property values in the 2011 TABOR property assessment. The 27.23 percent reduction resulted in lost general-operating revenues (at the end of the year) of $681,520. The district has also been advised by the County Tax Assessors Office that due to TABOR reassessments in 2013, the district's assessed valuation could be further reduced by approximately 25 percent or another estimated $470,960 annually (without the 3 mill adjustment). The total lost revenues in the General Operating Fund due to the two TABOR reassessments is expected to total $1,152,480 by fiscal year 2014. When added to the capital fund, which by 2014 fiscal year will have lost approximately $234,640, the lost operating revenues total $1,387,120.
The proposed new position of an assistant chief officer/training officer is to further the district's succession plan, which has been stated in our long-term strategic plan for several years. We know that sometime in the next couple of years we will be losing both chief officers to retirement and we need to continue protecting and serving the district's responsibilities while maintaining our current service levels.
The district has been able to save some money as well as realize more revenues than expected. While the new position has not been budgeted for this current year, these savings could be used to fund this new position, not from the expanded mill-levy increase. This position would also be critical to maintaining a high level of training ensuring that all personnel are being trained to a consistent and high level at all times.
We understand the opportunity to speak with the district's employees to hear their concerns outside the board room is an important one. Director Brian Olson and director Bill Boineau will schedule individual meetings over three consecutive days in the coming weeks to hear from anyone who has concerns. After these meetings have been held, the board will discuss the findings and develop solutions at the following board meeting, which is scheduled to take place on March 26.
Chief Steve Sowles and Deputy Chief John Mele, along with the captains, have full support from the board of directors. The chiefs and captains are extremely dedicated individuals who always have the safety and well-being of the community first and foremost in their decisions. Your elected board understands the culture and desires of our constituents; we have an individual average residency in Snowmass Village of more than 37 years. We realize how important it is to keep community interests above individual gain.
The board of directors wants the community to know we continue to address the safety of Snowmass Village every day and we will be there when you call whether it is for an emergency or just for a concern you might have. We appreciate your support and concerns.
Donna Aiken, Bill Boineau, Tom Dunlop, Irene Greiser and Brian Olson
Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection Board of Directors