East Fork approves $19.9 million budget
A final $19.9 million budget was approved for Douglas County’s largest firefighting agency on May 21 after a public hearing.
The East Fork Fire Protection District covers 675 square miles and responds to 6,500 calls a year. Chief Tod Carlini said 88 percent of those are medical calls, making East Fork one of the largest patient transport ambulance services in the state.
Formed in 1981, the district became independent of Douglas County in 2016. It has an elected board and its own tax rate of 48.74 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Nearly three-quarters, or $13.4 million, of the district’s general fund is wages and benefits. Employees will absorb half of the State PERS rate increase this year, via reductions in pay. The district will contribute the other half of the increase. The district dedicated $1.1 million to capital acquisitions as part of the district’s $4.35 million Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan. The plan includes funding for apparatus, equipment, and facilities. Carlini said the district has had to defer much of its capital funding to help pay personnel in the past.
Carlini said the district budgeted money to cover its portion of a FEMA Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response, which would allow the district to hire four new firefighter-medic positions.
A highly competitive national grant funded by FEMA, it allows agencies to ramp up staffing by paying 60 percent over a three-year period.
After the third year, the district must fund all of the cost.
Carlini said the district should know the fate of that application within the next three months. During the past two years, the district has added eight additional firefighter-medic positions. The approved budget includes two of those eight additional positions.
The district’s emergency fund includes $303,211, while the debt service fund is funded at $338,190. The debt service fund supports the funding for the district office and the acquisition of three Type I fire engines, replacing some apparatus which are 25 years old. The district will retire the debt of the loan for its County Road office and headquarters this fiscal year.
While the district supports its volunteer program, the district’s six all-volunteer stations and programs have been redesigned to provide logistical needs at fires. Volunteers are no longer trained as all-risk responders, like the career employees.
“We have transitioned our volunteers to meet the logistical needs of the organization,” Carlini said. “Specifically, our volunteers are trained in incident logistics, water tender operations, and wildland firefighting. Just because you have a volunteer station in your neighborhood doesn’t mean that you will have an immediate all-risk response when needed.”
The overall demographic of the district and the necessary time commitments make volunteering as all-risk responders a challenge.
Carlini said the district has seen a continual decline in volunteers, however, the district has been able to recruit 24 new volunteers and has trained them as logistical and wildland volunteers.
Most recently, the district was able to recruit six new volunteers in the Sheridan-Foothill area as well as additional volunteers in Gardnerville and Fish Springs area.
“Right now, there is a real need for volunteers in the Ruhenstroth area,” he said. “If you are interested in volunteering, you can apply by visiting the district’s website at eastforkfire.org. East Fork’s volunteer ranks are now at 60 volunteers.
“The majority of responses the district makes are medical calls.”
Citing sustainability as a key consideration, the district established an ending fund balance of 11.1 percent which is 2.8 percent higher than the recommend 8.3 percent standard and 7.1 percent higher than the state mandated 4 percent.
“Over the years, the district has had to tap into its reserve funds but in metered amounts which support and preserve the district’s ability to sustain itself,” Carlini said. “The district was able to sustain its operations during the great recession in part due to accessing reserve funds which it had built up as a strategic budget objective over the years. The district has to continue to exert some fiscal restraint now in order to fund its future and to keep things moving forward.”
This is Carlini’s 19th annual budget prepared during his tenure as the District’s Fire Chief and CFO.
The district’s Budget and Capital Improvement Plan are available for viewing on the district’s website at eastforkfire.org. Carlini said he always welcomes questions regarding the district’s budget.
“Government budgets are sometimes a challenge for the public to understand and read. East Fork has always tried to present its budgets in a very open, simple, and transparent manner.”