By Meg Olson
Point Roberts fire commissioners gave their unanimous support to maximizing their tax revenue with the goal of aggressively building up reserves.
“I’m very concerned about taking our dollars in reserve and getting low,” said commissioner Shannon Tomsen at the fire district’s November 9 meeting.
The total amount of tax dollars the fire district will levy in Point Roberts for 2017 will be $566,598, not including increases due to new construction, up 2.5 percent from the 2016 levy.
Taking an increase of 1 percent in their levy for 2017, as allowed annually under state law, plus taking the taxing capacity they have saved from previous years when they did not take that increase, commissioners will increase their levy by $13,942 next year. Under Chief Christopher Carleton’s projected budget, $13,704 of that will go into district reserves. Unused funds from the 2016 operational budget will also go into the reserve accounts. With other revenue coming to $20,700, this brings the department’s 2017 revenue to $587,398.
Financial manager Patty Merkel reported at a November 4 budget workshop that the district has two reserve accounts. The operational reserve balance is currently at $260,000 and the district’s goal is to maintain the fund at a level to cover six months of operating expenses so the department could continue to provide services if its revenue from taxes were interrupted.
The capital reserve fund currently stands at $216,000. Carleton is projecting a need for $91,000 in capital expenditures in the remainder of 2016 and 2017. Identified items include urgently needed vehicle repairs, renovations to the sleeping quarters at the fire station, an onboard computer for the ambulance and an all-terrain
vehicle equipped to fight wildfires.
“My biggest fear is a forest fire,” Carleton said. This summer a smoldering log was found in a wooded area that could not be accessed with the vehicles the department has. “We had to go in on foot.”
The estimated cost of the vehicle Carleton is proposing to buy to solve the problem is $25,000.
Further down the road the department will also need to purchase a new engine. “Ours are 23 and 25 years old,” Carleton said. One has a cracked tank and will need a $25,000 replacement to stay in service, which Carleton said was a prudent expenditure as the vehicle is otherwise strong. The district is pursuing grants for a new engine but also needs to save if those grants don’t come through, Carleton said.
Commissioners also approved Carleton’s 2017 operational budget for 2017 of $573,694, up approximately 4 percent from the 2016 budget. Line items that saw increases included vehicle repairs, training and software, and facility repairs.
The most significant change in 2017 will be the creation of a paid administrative captain position, which will be filled by the internal promotion of a Point Roberts resident volunteer. “I’d like to bring this person in under contract to produce more for the community,” Carleton said.
The $18,000 position would only have a net effect of increasing the budget by $4,000, as the individual being considered for the position currently puts in enough volunteer hours to earn $14,000 in stipends. With the creation of the contract position the budget for stipends was decreased commensurately.
Carleton said the candidate for the position is an advanced emergency medical technician, a fully trained firefighter and is completing incident command training. The position will be assigned some of the duties that are now the assistant chief’s but will have additional duties as well.
“We all carry office responsibilities but they will also be utilized in a command function,” Carleton said.