SHFAD Budget Committee approves $2.3 million spending plan

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Budget Committee approved a $2.3 million budget for 2014-15 on May 20.

The budget next moves the SHFAD Board of Directors for adoption prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The budget reflects an increase of $65,000, said Fire Chief Mike Beaver. That stems from adding a $100,000 line of credit with Key Bank.

The district has typically borrowed $200,000 to $250,000 annually to provide cash flow during the early part of the fiscal year.

The district moved to a line of credit instead of using a loan in recent years, Beaver said. That lets the district borrow just what it needs when it needs to borrow. The line of credit increased from $250,000 to $350,000.

Elsewhere, the budget decreases spending by $2,600 for personnel, nearly $10,000 for materials and services and a little more than $7,000 for capital outlays. It also transfers $62,000 to the district’s equipment reserve fund, which is used to pay for equipment and ambulance replacement.

In 2014-15, ambulance replacement continues to be the district’s biggest focus, he said. The district’s last ambulance, a 2007 Braun, has more than 133,000 miles on it. The oldest medic unit, a 2002 model, has more than 155,000 miles on it.

“We have spent in excess of $12,000 this fiscal year on ambulance maintenance,” he said. “While our fleet of ambulances still looks good and operates to today’s standards, purchasing a new unit or remounting one of our old ones needs to be a priority for this budget year if funding is available or can be obtained.”

Until the district’s 2006 equipment bond is paid off, a lease purchase may be the only way to replace ambulances, Beaver said, but the district also is applying for a grant to buy an ambulance.

“The ongoing downturn in our economy has had a negative impact on this district as well as all public agencies,” he said. “We continue to see decreases in revenue from Medicare and other insurance carriers while experiencing a record increase in ambulance call volume in 2013.”

The district has the best fleet of fire apparatus and associated equipment in the history of the department, he said, although the district’s scuba gear is 13 to 15 years old and approaching its life expectancy, he said, and replacement should be another priority for the district.

The district won a $60,500 grant in 2013 and was able to purchase 30 sets of turnout gear and other needed personal protection equipment, Beaver said.

“Our district continues to provide quality public service to our citizens,” he said. “Low revenue growth and the continued poor economy are major challenges for the district. As assessed values start to grow, more revenue will hopefully be available for the district to help address some of our specific equipment and vehicle needs.”

The district cannot control three areas that seem to dominate its budget, Beaver said. “Annual retirement and healthcare costs, along with reduced ambulance revenue, being three of the biggest hurdles we face each budget cycle.”

The challenges are not new, he said. District personnel are accustomed to functioning through this type of adversity.

“Despite the concerns listed above in this message, needs and requests from Sweet Home’s citizens continue to increase,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to meet those needs with less financial resources for the time being.”