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Polk No. 1 forced to cut position of fire marshal

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Polk County Fire District No. 1 will lay off its fire marshal in early January because of budget problems, officials announced on Monday.

December 05, 2012

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Polk County Fire District No. 1 will lay off its fire marshal in early January because of budget problems, officials announced on Monday.

Polk No. 1, which has wrestled with dwindling revenue in recent years, eliminated the position to ensure enough cash for operations during the 2013-14 fiscal year, said Fire Chief Jason Cane.

Fire Marshal Jeff Donahue's last day is Jan. 11. Donahue, who was hired five years ago, handles fire and safety plan reviews, code inspections, fire incident investigations and fire prevention education and outreach.

Jeff Donahue

Jeff Donahue

"Jeff has had a positive impact," Cane said. "It makes the cut very difficult."

Cane, who was a fire marshal before becoming chief in 2007, said he will absorb some of Donahue's duties.

"Some routine inspections, education ... those things will probably be reduced," he said. "There's going to be a limited number of people around to do that."

Cane said he hopes the state fire marshal's office can pick up license inspections for health facilities and assist Polk No. 1 with incident investigations.

"We just won't be able to provide as much service as we could with a full fire marshal," he said.

The cut stems from the district trying to preserve enough cash reserves to pay for operations during that period when it's waiting on property tax revenue receipts.

The district needs at least $800,000 for a beginning fund balance to pay for operations. Cutting the fire marshal spot half way through the 2012-13 fiscal year will save Polk No. 1 about $49,000 in wages and benefits.

Flat property tax revenue, PERS and health care cost increases for paid staff and non-receipt of full reimbursements for ambulance services are causes of the problem, Cane said.

The district has also been on its own after a five-year operating levy expired in 2010. The lack of that significant revenue -- which ranged from $480,000 to $570,000 a year -- "is catching up with us," Cane said.

Unless a new income source can be found, the district could be running in the red by 2014-15, Cane said.

Polk No. 1 will have 14 paid employees starting in January. Cane said he doesn't know if there will be more cuts before July. Currently, there is a vacant captain's position the board could choose not to fill, he said.

Learn More

* Polk County Fire District No. 1's budget will be on the agenda during the district board of directors' meeting Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. at Central Station, 1800 Monmouth St. For more information: 503-838-1510.

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