Board Continues 2014 Budget Discussion
By Patty Unruh
Timberline Fire Protection District had its Board meeting at 7 p.m. October 16 at Station 3, 660 Highway 46. Fire Chief Chris Jennings and all Board members were present: President Rick Wenzel, Vice President Jim Crawford, Secretary Paul Ondr, Treasurer Chris Samuelson, Member-at-Large Kay Johnston, and Business Manager Jennifer Hinderman.
Also present were visitors from Central City government. Mayor Ron Engels, City Manager Alan Lanning, and Aldermen Bob Spain, Gloria Gaines, and Kathy Heider were there to observe.
Treasurer Samuelson reported on the balance sheet as of September 30. He noted the balance in checking/ savings of $704,624. Checks written during September totaled $80,295.
Other than the checking/savings account, other current assets totaled $1,596,375.
Fixed assets totaled $4,228,643, including land, buildings, and fire trucks.
Total liabilities were $38,391, which included accounts payable and payroll. Total equity was $4,190,251. The total of liabilities and equity was $4,228,643.
The balance in the general fund on January 1, 2013 was $351,248; on September 30, 2013, the balance was $388,054, an increase of $36,806.
Samuelson noted that Timberline had spent $9,217 on personal protective equipment from January through September 2013; $8,500 had been budgeted. That put Timberline $717 over budget, or at 108% of the budget for the year. A Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant, however, would help provide 25 sets of gear.
Jennings noted that the 2007 Ford truck needs about $8,000 in repairs, including a new transmission. Timberline was using it to plow snow, which Jennings said creates lots of wear and tear on any vehicle.
Another expense noted was natural gas and propane at Station 2, which stood at 83 percent of budget thus far, or $9,581, which was considerably higher than at other stations. $11,500 had been budgeted for Station 2 for 2013. Ondr questioned the reason for the high expense, and Jennings advised that with ambulances going in and out, it was necessary to keep the bays warmer.
Jennings reported on flood wrap-up. He said that the Gilpin portion of the district did not suffer significant impact during the flooding, but the Boulder portion received significant impact. Timberline was the only fully functional fire agency across the Southern Boulder Mountain region, and many of the mountain departments relied on Timberline for aid. He said the upgrades at Station 3 allowed staffing both daytime and nighttime during initial flooding.
The use of group-based text messaging helped keep communications updated efficiently. However, the Chief said, there were significant radio issues. He added that the radio tower going up in the County, as well as a series of towers planned, should help. He said there would be a single channel for County agencies.
Jennings noted that FEMA came in after the flood and did an assessment. He was encouraged by the good involvement of the County Commissioners and the cities of Black Hawk and Central City.
Of concern was a dry hydrant that was discovered across from Gilpin School at Missouri Lakes II. It failed to perform due to significant debris. He said there were likely issues across the district, and evaluating water systems in 2014 would have to be a focus. He was glad that the trucks and tenders had rolling water supplies and compressed air foam systems that would help them be more effective with less.
Jennings said the draft of the 2014 budget was completed. He advised that it retains a $150,000 general fund reserve well in excess of the TABOR (Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights) reserve. The budget allows for about $40,000 per month in expenses.
He reminded the Board that the funding model did not show grant awards or service fees from deployment. “Historically,” he said, “about one hundred thousand is brought in, but I didn’t budget for that, because it is not guaranteed.” He said the budget provides for a growing surplus in the capital fund.
The budget includes extending the business manager’s position from part-time to full-time and keeping the maintenance/ training position full-time throughout the year. A part-time position for recruitment and retention co-coordinator was added in the budget.
Firefighter Aaron Skeen completed a two-week intensive EMT-B class in California. High Country Auxiliary gave Skeen $1,000, of which Timberline paid half, to help cover the course costs. Skeen’s schedule prevented him from going to classes locally. Jennings felt the return to the district would be worth the time and effort.
Jennings said an update of the personnel manual had been completed in draft form. He had eliminated sick time and moved to a proposed paid time off model. The Board requested a workshop to go over the manual.
A request for a four-year Federal SAFER grant has been submitted asking for 95 percent funding for a full-time volunteer recruitment and retention training coordinator position. The grant amount requested is about $450,000.
Jennings went to Cripple Creek on October 2 to present a $100,000 highway safety grant request to DOLA. The grant will require matching a 50/50 match in the amount of $50,000, which has been budgeted in the 2014 budget.
Timberline, the County, and the CSU extension office joined together to submit for a grant that will fund a part-time Wildfire Mitigation Specialist. This 18-month position, Jennings advised, will greatly increase community outreach. It covers the County, not just Timberline’s district. Timberline lieutenant Emmit Hoyl was awarded the position and started October 16.
A new barcode inventory control system is now ready for deployment. Over the next several months, all equipment in the district will receive bar codes to help track their items and decrease the time spent performing truck inspections.
Four engines will have their chassis replaced by Rosenbauer America, the company that put on the original chassis. Rosenbauer had underestimated the weight of the trucks and put on the wrong chassis. The company will be replacing the chassis at its own expense due to the error. The chassis were 2012, and the new ones will be 2014.
Timberline continues to assess rock wall damages at Station 1 and is investigating a possible remedy through FEMA disaster assistance. The issue is one of stability of the slope where the wall is located. Jennings told the Board that the district’s insurance would want to validate whether there was a risk at the building before FEMA could assist. Garage door width is also a problem at the station. Engine 51 received minor damage from contact with the narrow door frame. One option is to expand the garage door by re-facing the station front.
As for Station 7, the front driveway has become extremely eroded and in need of immediate repair. Winter plowing of the driveway will be complicated by current damage. Wenzel noted that a drainage issue created the problem. Only one bid has been received, for $8,000, to fill the area with fill and top with recycled asphalt. The Board decided to price concrete as well.
Draft of 2014 Budget
The Board discussed the draft budget during the Chief’s report and continued discussion about it during the “new business” portion of the meeting.
Samuelson stated, “We’re still in the third year of spending more than we bring in,” adding, “We’re setting unsustainable precedents. We just spent two million dollars on trucks.” He questioned, “Where is the tangible benefit to taxpayers?”
Jennings responded that the district has a considerable surplus, with an estimated ending reserve in the general fund for 2013 of $270,943. A reserve of $150,000 is the target goal for 2014. He believed it would be a good idea to utilize some of the reserves and not have a large amount left. He suggested that deployment team development would be the easiest solution to declining funds. He also said the district could explore grants and possible mill levies and taxing of unincorporated areas. He told the Board they would need to discuss that.
Jennings suggested that funds for training and equipment could be reduced. He expects their new equipment to last at least ten years and said they could share costs with other departments.
The Board discussed receiving several calls per week from homeowners concerned about loss of insurance coverage because of a possible inadequacy in fire protection services. “There is a whole cascade of issues requiring improvement in service abilities,” Jennings noted. “This is true of all fire departments in the mountains.”
He believed that volunteers are more important than paid staff, including himself. He commented that the district currently has eight stations to staff, with a ninth coming. “We have an aging county. We don’t have a lot of youth, which hurts a volunteer department,” he noted. He concluded, “We need to reevaluate next year – if we get grants and deployment, we may be good with our money situation again.”
Jennings did not recommend adoption of the budget at that meeting. The Board agreed that they needed a better idea of the actual figures for 2013 and that a public hearing needed to be held on the new budget.
Health Insurance for 2014
Jennifer Hinderman, the Business Manager, presented information on health insurance. She said Timberline had changed to the Public Sector Health Care Group (Anthem Blue Cross/ Blue Shield) last year. She said Cigna was going to raise rates 12 percent, so they switched.
There are mandatory fees of $65 per employee per year for PCORI (Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute) and for reinsurance.
Hinderman also said that Kathi Lancaster volunteers her time to administer the banking and other plan administrative duties. Beginning in 2014, PSHCG wants to hire a part-time administrator, suggesting an administrative fee of one or two dollars per employee per month.
The Board approved covering 75 percent of the administrative fees for the health care and for the $65 in fees.
Next Board Meetings
The next two Timberline Board meetings will be November 20 and December 10 at 7 p.m. at the Station 3 location at 660 Highway 46.