Marion County Fire District #1 asked voters to renew and increase its local option levy during the May Primary Election. Funding would have been used to maintain operations, hire additional emergency personnel and replace apparatus. When the ballot measure failed, the Fire District lost 30 percent (or $2.4 million) of its operating budget for emergency services for the next fiscal year.

The next fiscal year begins July 1, 2020 and the Fire District has been grappling with what cuts to emergency service levels will look like. It has held numerous meetings with emergency personnel, administrative staff, the Board of Directors, and the public to develop a plan.

At this point, $1 million in cuts is coming from reduction of emergency personnel; “browning out” stations and apparatus; and, employee concessions. What does this mean for residents of Marion County Fire District #1?

Reduction of emergency personnel – The Fire District will eliminate three emergency personnel (two firefighter/EMTs and one Battalion Chief) by the end of the year. In addition, it will reduce minimum staffing levels from 14 to 10 firefighter/EMTs on shift 24 hours a day by cutting its overtime budget.

“Browning out” stations and apparatus – Stations in Macleay and Lake Labish will have all emergency apparatus moved to high-traffic stations in other areas. The station in Clearlake will lose a daytime engine company even during high call volume periods due to reduced staffing levels. This could result in a response time increase by an estimated five minutes for parts of the Fire District.

Employee concessions – Emergency personnel and administrative staff at Marion County Fire District #1 will have no cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next fiscal year, and reductions in wages through mandatory furlough days. They also will see cuts in the health care benefits they receive.

The remaining amount to cut of $1.4 million is being made up through the Fire District’s one-time fund balance and reserve account. Fire Chief Kyle McMann says once this money is spent, it’s gone.

“We cannot go back to the well here. There’s nothing left,” said Chief McMann. “If we can’t pass our local option levy in a future election, we will have to permanently close stations and lay off more firefighters. This will result in even longer response times for our citizens. It’s that grim and we need to be transparent to the communities we serve that this is the reality.”

The Board of Directors will hold two upcoming virtual meetings to discuss asking voters to consider renewing the local option levy at the original amount of 71 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. A work session with the Board of Directors will be held on July 9, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. The Board of Directors will consider a resolution to place the local option levy on the November General Election ballot during its July 16, 2020 regular meeting. Interested parties can learn how to access the meeting through the Fire District’s website at https://www.mcfd1.com/public-records/pdf-records/.