Chena-Goldstream Fire and Rescue (CGFR) serves 11,325 people in an 80 square mile fire service area. Its emergency medical response reaches beyond the fire service area to an even larger area. Over time we have built four fire stations. That places most residents within 5 miles of a station, an important factor in responding effectively and keeping home-owner insurance rates low.
In 1997 the tax levy exceeded the immediate needs of the Department, leading the CGFR Board of Directors to voluntarily reduce the mill rate. Unfortunately, the department has both immediate needs and long term needs. Reducing the mill rate covered CGFR's annual operation costs but hamstrung our ability to accommodate the department's long term needs.
Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases and new construction in the CGFR Fire Service Area (FSA) have raised the tax cap and covered our increased operating expenses for the few salaries we pay, fuel cost increases and other expenses. The reduction of 1997 has prevented us from replacing aging fire apparatus in a timely fashion, leaving your fire department with older, underpowered and unsafe apparatus. Our current funding, including state and federal grants, affords us to replace fire trucks after 40 years of service. That's a long time. We are asking the residents of the CGFR Fire Service Area to approve a measure increasing the FSA income such that the retirement age of fire apparatus can be reduced to a more reasonable 25 years.
In order for CGFR to continue its current level of service the CGFR Board has recommended restoring the tax levy (mill rate) to approximately the same level assessed a decade and a half ago. We hope a public election to approve this measure will take place in March 2012. More details will be posted here as the story progresses.
How does the mill rate for residents of the CGFR service area compare?
What trucks are currently in the CGFR fleet?
How and when will fire trucks and tankers be replaced under the new mill rate?
How was the cost estimate for apparatus replacement determined?
How does CGFR spend its money?
What areas are included in the CGFR service area?
How much will the restoration of the mill rate increase property taxes?
What will the ballot look like?
The bulk of the CGFR manpower is provided by neighbor volunteers who collectively put in approximately 43,000 hours of service per year, not including training time. We provide their protective gear, training and workers comp insurance. This is supplemented by a small paid professional staff of five who provide administration, leadership, training and the initial response during normal working hours. Other financial obligations include 4 fire stations to heat and maintain, a mortgage on the most recent fire station, a loan through the Borough for the purchase of the most recent fire truck, and a variety of aging equipment to maintain. Our most pressing need is to update an aging fleet of fire trucks in order to meet safety and operational requirements. Careful and continuous review of our annual budgets leads us to conclude that we need to now seek restoration of the tax assessment in order to maintain service.
One straightforward way to understand the budget need is to look at large apparatus (fire trucks). To meet increasing day-to-day operational costs we have continually delayed purchasing fire trucks, moving money from that part of the budget to operations and maintenance. Even after saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by constructing Station #3 in Goldstream using mostly volunteer labor instead of contracting, we have been unable to save enough for timely engine replacement. When we are able to replace a fire truck that truck is 40 years old and is neither dependable nor safe. As we look forward under our current budget the retirement age of trucks gets older and the risk of a truck breaking down and not being available when needed increases significantly.
To maintain our current service, our strategy is to supplement our equipment budget enough to slowly (over 25 years) reduce the retirement age of our apparatus from 40 years old to 25 years old. While doing this, our current small contributions to apparatus would be used to absorb increases in operational costs such as fuel, insurance, personnel, and safety items like air tanks, communications and specialized equipment that ensure the safety of fire fighters.
We will reduce our fleet from 12 major apparatus to 10, replacing at 5-year intervals three old trucks of limited capability with two trucks built for fighting fires. We will then continue to replace two pieces of equipment every five years. This strategy will enable us to reduce the retirement age to 25 years old and to maintain that retirement age. Our calculation of the budget requirement for this strategy is $300,000 per year. Using the estimated 2011 property assessment this would be an increase in the mill rate of 0.27 mills, or $27 for each $100,000 of property assessment.
As major fire apparatus ages it affects us in several ways. By age 20 parts are no longer immediately available and equipment must be pulled out of service for longer periods. By age 30 parts for engines, transmissions, and pumps are not likely available at all. Our oldest tanker sits on a 1977 chassis and has been modified to work as a tanker. We seldom train with it because it so often breaks down and is expensive to operate. Thus we are faced with the dilemma of spending money or placing volunteers in the tenuous situation of operating an unfamiliar piece of equipment in the dark and cold of a winter fire. As years pass more and more of our equipment will fall into this category unless we meet our equipment replacement schedule.
Operational cost and equipment dependability are critical issues. Furthermore, since standards set by ISO have increased, we also face the requirement to haul and pump more water. Without hydrants available we have increased water storage at our remote stations at the Vallata and on Isberg. This has been another challenge to our current budget. As the oldest trucks are replaced the new ones will have larger tanks and greater pumping capacity. This helps our ISO insurance rating and our performance at a fire.
Currently, our mill rate is the 2nd lowest in the Borough despite the size of the area served. With approval of this mill rate increase, we would find ourselves right in the middle of the 5 volunteer departments in the Borough. As one would expect, there is a relationship between the size of the fire district, the number of stations needed, the density of population in the district, and the cost to each resident. A compact district with a large population might be served by a single fire station and should expect a lower per capita cost. The Chena Goldstream district covers 80 square miles.
With four strategically placed stations, most of our residents now live within 5 miles of a station. We are the 2nd largest district and with the mill rate restoration we would be 3rd in terms of mill rate. We are one of the older volunteer departments in the Borough and are blessed with a consistent flow of volunteers willing to expend the time to become highly trained. We have an excellent reputation among our peer departments, but because of our age, we also face the challenges of maintaining buildings and keeping equipment current. It is because of dedicated volunteers and our partnerships with neighboring departments that we are able to provide a professional level of service at reasonable cost.
CGFR currently has 12 trucks – 5 tankers and 7 engines. Learn more about our trucks.
If voters approve raising/restoring the tax levy we would expect to replace major apparatus on the following schedule.
|Truck Number||Date Purchased||Estimated Replacement Date||Retirement Age|
If we ordered today a new fire engine, like the one most recently purchased, that engine would cost $650,000. Recent history instructs us that the cost of fire trucks is rising much faster than the number of homes and businesses in our district is increasing. Thus we are have used a cost of $750,000 per engine as the average cost over the next 25 years. We may later find that this estimate is low. If it proves to be, then later apparatus purchases may have to be delayed.
|Cost per truck||Annual revenue needed to purchase 2 trucks every 5 years||Added mill rate|
Thus an increase of 0.27 mills would have yielded for 2010 a total mill rate of 1.87 vs. 1.60.
The 2010-2011 annual budget for CGFR was $924,945. Of that $711,075 was allocated to the fire budget and $213,870 to the emergency medical services (EMS) budget. All professional staff work in both fire and EMS as do most volunteers. In addition, we were able to obtain a federal training grant and a state capital budget grant for a water storage tank.
Using the approximate 2011 property assessment, the restoration of the mill rate would create an increase in of 0.27 mills, or $27 for each $100,000 of assessed property value or $0.27 for each $1,000 assessed. To find out how much your property is currently assessed at, you can look at your tax forms that the Borough mails out to each property owner, look it up on the Borough property database, or contact the Borough Assessor’s office at 459-1429.
At of January 6, 2012, the ballot has not been set. The FNSB Assembly must first authorize an election. The ordinance, 2011-60, will be considered at the January 26 Assembly meeting.