The Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District is seeking an operating levy increase to hire more firefighters and a debt service swap to fund a long range apparatus replacement program.

The Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District is seeking an operating levy increase to hire more firefighters and a debt service swap to fund a long range apparatus replacement program.

The levy issue is the only item on the Aug. 6, 2013 election ballot in Camden County.

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 bonds 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.

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

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

A series of public hearings are being planned. See future articles for more information, or contact the fire department at 573-374-4411 for details on dates, times and locations.

Apparatus replacement program

The goal in seeking to keep the seven cent debt service for operations 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 without needing to ask for a substantial bond issue every time. 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 in 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 in firefighting operations. It is the most cost effective staffing model for fire department engine companies, according to studies done by national researchers.

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

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.

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 would like to increase the equipment budget 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.