In the Aug. 6, 2013 election, the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District is proposing a small operating levy bump and a debt service swap aimed at providing more effective response to fires as well as capital funding for a long range apparatus replacement program.

In the Aug. 6, 2013 election, the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District is proposing a small operating levy bump and a debt service swap aimed at providing more effective response to fires as well as capital funding for a long range apparatus replacement program.

At its February meeting, the district's board of directors approved the two-pronged ballot measure.

The district is currently collecting $0.57 per $100 of assessed valuation (AV).

Of that 57 cent levy, seven cents is for debt service on bonds issued in 1996 that are set to be paid off in 2016.

The proposal would allow the district to maintain that seven cents permanently to fund an apparatus replacement program. It is also requesting an additional seven cents of operating levy to enhance staffing, equipment and general maintenance of operations.

So, if approved, the overall levy would increase to $0.64 per $100 of AV. an estimated $223,000 in new revenue per year based on the current AV. An additional $223,000 per year would be retained from capturing the outgoing debt service funds.

The district has another debt service stream that is funding payment on bond issued in 2007.

The current budget is around $1.2 million. With approximately $500,000 a year in debt service payments from the 1996 and 2007 issues, the overall budget is around $1.7 million.

The proposal, says Fire Chief Dennis Reilly, is the most cost effective way to improve service and help the district maintain stability into the future.

“This will give us the ability to come in and do a better job than what we’re doing now,” he says. “All of this funding is aimed at emergency response - the tip of the spear, things we really need. It will give us the personnel and tools to come to your house on the worst day of your life and help us protect your life and property.”

According to Reilly, the district has cut costs to the extent of removing light bulbs from fixtures in the stations where they’re not needed. The proposal for additional funding has also been cut to the bare bones as well, he says.

The ballot issue will give voters the opportunity to make a decision on what level of service they want in their community.

“I always have to answer the question did your department do everything it could have. Right now, we’re doing everything we can with the resources we have, but there’s a limit with what we have. Taking the economy into account, I think we can do a little bit more. But it’s the community’s department, and it’s up to them what level they want to sustain,” Reilly says.

As the election nears, the district plans on holding informational community briefings on the issue. The dates have not yet been set.

Apparatus replacement program

The goal in seeking to keep the seven cent debt service for operating is to reduce the district's dependence on bond issues to fund all apparatus purchases, according to Reilly.

The levy swap would allow the district to fund replacement of smaller elements of its fleet - such as the tankers - without needing to ask for a substantial bond issue every time, Reilly says. With careful long term financial planning, bigger elements of the fleet - like expensive aerials - might still need a bond issue but would likely be much smaller issues due to some funding from the replacement program fund.

According to Reilly, national standards recommend a life span of 15 years for a fire truck, but the district will stretch this to 20-22 years to make the program work.

In addition to building construction, the 2007 bond issue included an engine truck, two 4x4 pumper trucks and a 100-foot aerial truck. It was a $6.85 million bond issue.

But now, the district is looking at needing to replace a couple of its old tanker trucks soon.

Tankers run about $300,000, and are an essential part of firefighting in the district - and indeed most of the lake area - due to the relatively low number of hydrants.

Reilly estimates only 35 percent of the 58 square mile district has access to fire hydrants, leaving 65 percent dependent on tankers for fire suppression. So mobile water supply is critical to operations.

Increase staffing and equipment

The plan for the second part of the proposal - the additional seven cents of operating levy - is, in part, to fund four additional firefighter positions. The district currently has nine firefighters divided into three shifts or platoons as well as a floater position created last spring to fill in on a platoon as needed due to sick days or vacation days.

The new staffing would put four firefighters on duty each shift, and with the floater position maintained, would mean actually having four on duty more than 90 percent of the time, according to Reilly.

Four personnel on a crew is a significant number for firefighting. It is the most cost effective staffing model for fire department engine companies, according to studies done by national researchers.

Using water supply as an example, the increase in staffing would mean an increase in the initial amount of water the department brings to a fire.

Due to lack of hydrants in many areas, one of the biggest issues for lake area fire departments is running out of water after the first tanker and having to wait for other resources, Reilly says. Instead of the initial response of the duty crew taking an engine and a tanker to a fire call, the increase in staffing would allow the department's initial response to include an additional tanker.

Maintaining a constant flow of water is key to putting out fires faster and limiting damage, he says.

The national standard for the initial response to a fire call includes 12 personnel, according to Reilly, and the SBFPD is trying to get to one-third of that number.

The 12 personnel includes two firefighters on an exterior attack line, two on a backup line, two for interior attack, two for the Rapid Intervention Team, a safety officer and an incident commander.

The additional seven cents of operating monies would also fund increases in the equipment budget, communications and technology, protective gear, vehicle maintenance and building and live fire training center maintenance and additions.

These budgets are now straining to provide the basics for firefighting, according to Reilly.

With changes coming in breathing apparatus standards, the current $5,000 equipment does not begin to cover the cost of new SCBAs down the line, he says.

Fire suppression foam is also part of the equipment budget. One major incident could put the district over budget just in foam, says Reilly.

The district's thermal imaging camera will soon need to be replaced, and other additional equipment would help improve the department's firefighting capability, according to Reilly.

That capability is especially important in light of the district's rising call volume. The SBFPD responded to a record 743 incidents in 2012 - about half of which were related to fire or rescue, Reilly says.

Reilly would like to increase the equipment to $20,000 a year.

The proposal would also include a new budget line item for communications equipment of $7,500 per year, and a technology budget of $35,000 for mobile data equipment in apparatus, software and network upgrades and a plotter for printing maps. A new budget line item of $9,500 would be added for protective gear, and there would be an increase in funding for physicals for firefighters. With the proposal to keep apparatus a longer amount of time, the proposal would also increase the vehicle maintenance budget from $30,000 to $40,000. The training facility would have a $10,000 budget and building maintenance $20,000.

You may also contact Reilly at 573-374-4411 for more detailed information.