Cutbacks but no layoffs yet in Fire District 5

The budget situation for Grays Harbor Fire District 5 isn’t quite as dire as Chief Dan Prater had feared after a levy lid lift failed in November, but don’t expect to see the district working on fire prevention education or at the fair next year.

“Every bit of our funds are going toward everyday operations and to just keep responding and keep doing our job,” Prater said.

The district commissioners passed the 2013 budget last week, cutting the fire prevention program and first-aid booth at the Grays Harbor County Fair, but keeping the burn trailer to rent to other districts. Prater said the programs would need 100 percent volunteers to run them — usually fire volunteers receive a small stipend.

The stipends remaining for volunteers in other capacities have been cut, but no layoffs have been made yet. They’re still on the table if there are significant changes in the first few months of the year, as is the closing of a station.

“Everybody worked hard, everyone from volunteers to career staff to the board … looked really hard at the budget to figure things out and not cut anybody and keep providing the level of service we know our citizens expect from us,” Prater said.

The budget assumes expenses of just less than $1.65 million, exactly equal to its revenues. The estimated carry-over from 2012 is only $100,000, although Prater is hopeful that may end up higher because of some changes to bill collection and other incomes.

The district hasn’t had official word from Fire District 12 canceling its EMS contract, but with the failure of that district’s EMS levy, the cancellation is likely. It’s assumed in District 5’s budget.

Two big items may still impact the budget: a $150,000 loan from Sterling Savings Bank is due next year, and in the budget, but if Prater is successful in negotiating a change in that schedule it may free up some money in the 2013 budget. Contract negotiations are under way with some personnel which may also impact the budget if any changes are made. The current budget assumes no changes in personnel costs. Prater has already frozen his own salary.

“Although (the budget) is not as bad, it’s still bad, and I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Commissioners meet tonight for their regular meeting, but will also likely discuss the assistant chief position. Prater said it’s very useful to the district, but does account for an $88,300 expense in the budget.

Replacing equipment or vehicles is not an option under the current budget, and repair costs are at a minimum. All four of the district’s ambulances are high-mileage and have had issues in the past, and four of the district’s engines have failed their inspections. The district is still waiting on a repair estimate for those vehicles.

“If it costs too much and we don’t have the money to fix it, it gets taken out of service,” Prater said. “If an ambulance blows up, it’s gone. We are an agency that has to have four ambulances. If we don’t have those, people either wait for (the others) to come back around or we hope one of our neighboring agencies is available.”

If a neighboring agency does have to respond to an emergency, that would likely result in a fee charged to the district.