New fire board meets to discuss budget
Meeting for the first time as a combined board, commissioners of North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) began deliberations on a proposed $4.4 million budget for 2007 at their regular meeting Monday night.
It was the first in which all six commissioners from the two merging fire districts met together as commissioners of one district.
The budget includes increased funding for 21 new positions in 2007, some of which have already been filled by firefighters in a training class that graduated last September.
The added personnel will allow stations at Birch Bay and Lynden to be staffed by three firefighters and one shift officer 24/7 as is currently done at the Blaine station.
NWFRS chief Tom Fields told the board that “this is what people have been asking for, loud and clear, ever since I started in January of last year. They want these stations manned, and this will do that.”
The plan also promotes one training captain to training chief, adds a second training captain and adds one administrative support staff.
The funding was made possible in part by a nearly half-million dollar federal SAFER grant that pays the bulk of the expenses for some of the newly hired staff for the first year and on a declining schedule after that.
Butch Hinchey, newly elected chair of the six-member board, admitted that the new budget “may come with a bit of sticker shock.”
The 2006 operating budget for fire district 3 is $900,684, and for district 13 is $1,836,646, for a total of $2.7 million. The proposed budget for the merged district for 2007 is $1.7 million more.
Included in the new expenses is a plan to lease fiber optic cable for stations at Blaine, Birch Bay and Lynden.
“The county medical program director told us that all training is now to be conducted on-line, so we have to have high-speed connections at about $100 per station,” said Fields, “and at Blaine, Birch Bay and Lynden we plan to lease fiber-optic cables so we don’t lose our computers in bad weather when Comcast goes down.”
Fields added that the department can recoup some of the expense because the phone service will be cheaper.
The commissioners were given a detailed preliminary budget Monday night that Fields went through quickly after passing out summaries to the public.
They will meet again in a public work session next Monday, December 18, at the Birch Bay station to begin going over the budget in detail.
Hinchey said that final approval, which by state law must happen before the end of the year, will most likely be at a meeting date yet to be determined but “probably will be between Christmas and New Year’s.”
The process of carrying out the voter-approved merger in which fire district 13 absorbed district 3 last month means that district 13 commissioners Butch Hinchey, Bill Salter and Eddie Lathers were joined by former district 3 commissioners Rich Bosman, Jim Hawley and Dean Whitney.
The arrangement is temporary and allows voters to decide at each odd-year election which of two commissioners to retain as two incumbents will run for one open 6-year term.
The board has the option of increasing its number of commissioners to five, in which case the reduction will be accomplished with next year’s election.
The commissioners of the newly merged fire district also voted to change their designation to District 21, but plan to continue doing business as North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS).
They plan to meet twice each month, on the first Thursday at 7 p.m. for a business meeting at the Lynden station on 19th Street. They will also meet on the third Thursday at 7 p.m. primarily for work sessions at the Birch Bay station.
Updates are also available on their web site at www.nwfrs.net.