SHFAD budget boosted 1%, by PERS, other expenses

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Budget Committee members unanimously approved a $2,290,945 budget for 2012-13 at their annual meeting Tuesday, May 15.

Fire Chief Mike Beaver said the budget reflects an increase of 1 percent, $23,312, over the current year. He said that was due to several factors: Public Employee Retirement Systems employer contributions that are due to increase by 33 percent next year; a 12 percent hike in health insurance premiums; a 5 percent rise in dispatch costs starting July 1; and a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for the department’s six union-represented paramedic/firefighters that will kick in July 1.

The major changes in the overall budget are in the Personal Services funds, which, due to the pay raises and benefits costs, are increasing by $20,806, to $1,308,215. Other funds in the overall budget are not changing substantially, Beaver said.

He said low revenue growth and the poor economy “are major challenges for the district, as they are for most public agencies,” but noted that is not new.

“District personnel have grown accustomed to functioning through adversity; we do it every day as firefighters and EMT’s,” he said. But, he added, new government mandates, retirement and health care costs are three of the biggest hurdles the department faces.

“As in past years, it continues to be the goal of the Board of Directors and staff of the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District to be proactive and to try and recognize and address the needs of our ever-changing community.”

Beaver said calls are up slightly thus far this year, while funding from Medicare and other insurance companies has decreased. He said the increased call volume, if it holds, may equate into more ambulance revenue.

Other goals for the district this year are to complete a switch-over to FCC-mandated narrow-band radio equipment, replace an ambulance and perform some “much-needed” building maintenance.

“Our newest ambulance, a 2008 Braun, has over 100,000 miles on it,” Beaver said. “Our oldest medic unit, a 2002 model, has 113,000. While our fleet of ambulances still look and operate to today’s standards, purchasing a new one or remounting needs to be a priority for this budget year.”

A grant request to the Firefighters Assistance Grant Program for funds to remount two ambulances was turned down earlier this year, he said. Remounting involves putting an existing ambulance module onto a new chassis, which can save tens of thousands of dollars over buying a brand new ambulance.

He said that the district may have to lease-purchase a new ambulance.

Otherwise, Beaver said, the district is better-equipped now than it has ever been.

“The district’s fire equipment and training improvements, along with the city’s upgrades to the municipal water system, have helped the district maintain our current ISO rating of 4/8b. This equates into lower insurance rates for the community as a whole.”

Budget Committee members present on Tuesday were Dawn Mitchell, Tim Geil, Elmer Riemer, Roy Gaskey and Larry Johnson, all SHFAD directors, along with community members Charlene Adams, Noreen Nelson, Kevin Strong and Doug Emmert. Committee member Rob Younger was absent.