Carbondale fire service cut back
December 17, 2013
CARBONDALE — Officials with the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District warned fire district voters that rejection of last year's tax-hike proposal would mean cutbacks in the fire district's budget and, ultimately, its ability to fight fires and rescue injured or ill residents.
Now, said two fire district officials, the fire board and departmental staff have a budget that trims costs, eliminates summertime seasonal firefighting positions and cuts the department's Wildfire Patrol, which sends firefighters out into the remote regions of the 320-square-mile district to check conditions and, if possible, get a quick jump on a lightning-strike fire or other blazes that can suddenly flare up in the hot summer months.
During a recent conversation, Fire Chief Ron Leach and Gene Schilling, chair of the fire district's board of directors, said that the loss of anticipated funding will mean equipment will not be replaced, training will not be funded and there will be other effects that the public may or may not notice.
The department is trying to find ways to live within a 2014 budget of approximately $2 million, following voter rejection of a tax hike in November that would have injected roughly $1 million extra into the department's budget to offset property tax revenue declines over the past five years.
The department expects to have spent approximately $2.9 million in 2013, compared with roughly $3.2 million in revenue. More than $2.9 million of that revenue came from property and other taxes. More than $300,000 was to come from other sources, mostly from ambulance-service fees and wildfire-assistance contracts, according to the department's budget.
For 2014, according to the budget, the department expects to bring in close to $2 million, reflecting a $1.2 million decline in revenue because of effects of the recession that began in 2008.
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"All nonessential spending will be cut," Leach said, describing an ongoing effort by the board and the staff to trim $1.2 million from the 2014 district budget.
"We're going to make that $1.2 million up by finding $500,000 in budget cuts and getting into our reserves for $700,000," Leach continued, adding that the prospect of cutting that much from the budget of a critical public agency is "daunting."
The department expects to have a reserve balance of approximately $1.9 million at the start of 2014 after subtracting the amount to be transferred to the general fund to help plug the budget gap.
Among the equipment and programs that will be either deferred or eliminated, according to Leach, are the following:
• The popular public classes in CPR, teaching people how to administer life-saving techniques in emergencies, will be eliminated.
• Certification and training programs, under which departmental firefighters are sent to outside agencies for training of different types, will be cut out altogether.
• The planned purchase of a new firetruck and ambulance will be deferred to a future year, and the old equipment will stay in use.
• The free program to maintain and test automated external defibrillators, intended to provide support for businesses, schools and other entities to which the devices have been given, will be eliminated. That means the agencies, businesses and others who have the devices will have to either pay for having them tested and maintained or simply turn them back in to the Carbondale department.
• Recycling programs at the department's station buildings, as well as the department's partnership with and funding for Clean Energy Economy for the Region, an energy-efficiency advocacy organization active in Garfield County, will be eliminated.
• Painting of remote fire substations in Missouri Heights and Redstone will be deferred.