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Lake area fire board cuts $80,000 from budget

Three fire stations to close, equipment to be sold

LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — With grim faces, members of the Mid-County Fire Protection District Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a 2014 budget that will, over the next 12 months, be reduced by $80,000.

According to Fire Chief Scott Frandsen, the cuts will come in the form of reduced overtime for firefighters, closure of three fire stations, the sale of six pieces of equipment and the elimination of one full-time position.

Under the conditions of the proposed budget, the position of fire inspector will be eliminated after three months unless the district is successful in obtaining a grant from Homeland Security to fund the position. The grant, which Frandsen applied for several weeks ago, would provide $34,000 in salary along with additional revenue to provide benefits over the next two years, allowing the district to rehire a full-time fire inspector.

The budget cuts are the result of a failed November ballot issue that would have raised the district’s base property tax levy by 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The failure of the ballot issue on Nov. 5, by a 646-336 margin, was the fourth time the district has unsuccessfully tried to raise taxes in the past decade.

According to Frandsen, the district’s current tax rate is at the same level it was in 1986 when the district was formed. In addition to the base rate, the fire district also taxes property within its boundaries an additional 25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation as a debt service levy. The revenue from that debt service levy is being used to pay off bonds that were issued to improve the fire district’s infrastructure and is scheduled to sunset in 2017 when those bonds are paid in full.

Following failure of the ballot issue, the board asked Frandsen to get together with staff and work out where the annual budget could best be reduced without lowering the level of service any more than absolutely necessary.

In a working session held Dec. 7, board members worked with staff to craft a new budget based on Frandsen’s recommendation. The finalized budget he presented to the board last week was passed “as is.”

Frandsen said based on the board’s acceptance of his recommendations, the district would gradually reduce its overhead over the next 12 months to bring its budget down to the recommended $888,072.

Reducing the overhead will mean that the district will close Station Number 3 on state Route AA west of Camdenton; Station Number 5 in Decaturville on south Missouri Highway 7 and Station Number 6 on state Route D in southwestern Camden County.

Frandsen said he hasn’t yet scheduled exactly when the stations will close, except that he will keep Station 5 open until at least April because of the need to maintain electrical service to electronic equipment based at that location.

“We have to keep the heat on in that station at least until the weather warms in the spring so the electronic equipment there doesn’t freeze up,” he said.

In addition to closing the three outlying stations, the board also voted to modify the way in which overtime is paid to firefighters who work on holidays. According to the board, the change in the way overtime is paid will save the district approximately $3,500 annually.

Frandsen said the district would also sell a one-ladder truck, one fire engine, one tanker truck, one brush truck and a fireboat.

Frandsen said he would begin to advertise the equipment for sale as soon as possible, taking into consideration Board President Charles McClyea’s recommendation that he sell the equipment at market value and “don’t let us get hosed in the process.”

Frandsen did say there was some hope that the budget could be revised upwards “slightly” provided an increase in revenue from building permits, dock inspection permits and the Homeland Security grant comes through during the upcoming year.

“We’ll begin the process of eliminating the equipment and making the cuts when the budget goes into effect Jan. 1,” Frandsen said. “Then we’ll close the stations and sell the equipment on a tier-by-tier basis and see how things go as the budget year progresses.”

Frandsen went on to say the closure of the three stations and the elimination of six pieces of equipment would “undoubtedly negatively affect” the district’s ISO rating and result in higher insurance premiums for property owners in Camden County.

“It’s a tradeoff the voters were apparently willing to make,” Frandsen said. “They voted down the increase, and we have are going to have to cut services and equipment to make ends meet.”

In 2012, the district used $73,000 from its emergency reserve accounts to balance the budget and say that number is even higher for 2013.

The Mid-County Fire Protection District currently has 10 full-time employees and operates six fire stations with only the main station in Camdenton staffed on a full-time basis. However all the equipment in the outlying stations is kept at ready at all times and those stations can be staffed when necessary.

The district, which covers some 220 square miles in Camden County, responds to about 1,100 calls per year and is governed by a five-member board. It is the largest fire protection district serving the three-county Lake of the Ozarks region and has one of the lowest property tax rates. In the past year, at least two other lake area fire protection districts, Sunrise Beach and Lake Ozark, have successfully passed ballot measures that increased property tax base rates inside their boundary lines.

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