FD3 is a bit in the red

Island County Fire District 3 will be borrowing from Peter to pay Paul to handle a $40,000 budget overrun.

Two specific items -- unanticipated equipment repair and volunteer training -- added about $20,000 for each to the district's operations budget, putting those parts of the budget in the red. The district will make up for the shortfall by borrowing from the district's operations budget, then paying that portion of the budget back with money from a reserve account.

Chief Don Smith said the biggest culprit was the district's "success in recruitment" this year. FD 3 added 40 new volunteers to its ranks in 2002. Each volunteer requires training and personal safety equipment, things that cost money.

"That's what really killed our training budget," Smith said. "We are required by state law to have each volunteer trained and certified and outfitted in approved safety gear."

As an example of the cost of gear, Smith said the emergency pagers volunteers carry are about $500 to $600 each. Their "turnouts" -- the firefighter coats, pants, boots and face masks volunteers wear at fires and accident scenes -- are also several hundred dollars apiece.

Smith said the total cost of training and equipping one volunteer is between $2,000 and $3,000.

The good news is that the district is now fully staffed with 130 volunteers ready to respond. That is all the district needs and it will not be recruiting more.

"We will not be adding anymore except through attrition," Smith said.

District policy allows up to 130 volunteers, 14 at each of the district's six stations, 25 high school student trainees, and 20 medical personnel.

In addition to training and outfitting the new volunteers, the district has had several pieces of equipment that needed repair.

"If firefighting equipment breaks, it must be repaired as quickly as possible to be ready," said Smith.

Smith said he is not "crying poor mouth" over the additional expenses. The district has reserves and can make up the difference.

The district reserve budget is divided into three separate funds: facilities at $660,000, apparatus at about $300,000, and a smaller reserve budget of $140,000 to make up a $1.1 million reserve total.

Smith said falling short in one area of the budget isn't necessarily bad news. He said it shows that the district is planning for a minimum of expenses.

"The fact that we have a slight budget deficit is evidence that we're are writing tight budgets," he said.

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