FALLS CITY — When Terry Ungricht, the interim city manager for Falls City, put together the 2018-19 budget, he filled in $62,000 in city resources for the fire department.
That’s for the entire year.
The department runs on volunteers and the city pays Bob Young, the fire chief, at a 0.10 of full time. The rest pays for equipment, training, background checks, insurance, equipment testing, the occasional engine repair and a host of other items necessary to offering fire and medical response.
What: Five-year local option levy for Falls City fire and emergency operations.
When: May 15 primary election. Ballots will be mailed April 26.
Cost: $1 per $1,000 assessed value on properties.
What it can be used for: Breathing units, building maintenance and security, firefighting tools, safety equipment, fire tender truck, emergency duty rig, volunteer association funding and partial operations funding.
“The citizens get a helluva deal on the fire department just because they are so active,” Ungricht said. “We spend about $60,000 year on them. That gives you a lot.”
This year, the city’s agreement with Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District expired and wasn’t renewed. The budget took a $28,000 hit because of that, between the contract for services and what the district paid into the volunteer firefighters retirement fund, which the city will pick up, Ungricht said.
The department applies for grants to keep up with changing regulations and equipment needs, and since the SW Polk contract ended — which meant trucks were removed from the station — other departments have donated fire engines, hose, breathing units and tools.
Those aren’t guaranteed, so the loss of that contract put the department’s long-term future in sharp focus, Ungricht said. The department can’t exist for long on the resources the city can offer, he said.
Now the city’s asking citizens to give their fire department a boost with a five-year levy that will charge about $1 per $1,000 of assessed value on properties. The levy, which will raise about $220,000 over its life, will appear on the May 15 ballot.
Money raised from the levy, an average of $44,000 each year, will pay for breathing units required for firefighters to enter burning buildings, a duty truck, firefighter protective clothing, called turnouts, and partial operations funding.
Falls City has been the beneficiary of other departments, which have donated two trucks, thousands of dollars in hose and other equipment. Donations allow the department to maintain its level of service before the separation with SW Polk and save the department a lot of money, Young said.
Donated equipment still comes with maintenance and testing costs.
“We’ve been working really hard at getting older equipment from other fire departments that we can actually use (now), but we do have to invest,” Young said. “We just can’t keep doing that. Because at some point in time, it all wears out.”
Young said the department is Department of Public Safety Standards and Training accredited and has a contract with a physician so its emergency medical technicians can respond to medical calls. Maintaining that level of service costs money in testing and training. Equipment, including turnouts, breathing units and tires on trucks, need to be replaced per regulations. Hoses and pumps require testing to make sure they are fit for service.
“The same responsibilities are here that were 30 years ago, but there’s just so many more rules and regulations that you have to follow,” Young said. “I hope that’s what people will understand when we go out for this, because we have never gone out for more money for the fire department. Never.”
Ungricht said he’s not sure about what would happen if the levy isn’t approved. It could mean becoming part of a larger district and risk losing the city station in a consolidation, Young said.
“We really don’t know, but we know we can’t keep going like this,” Ungricht said. “It would be really tough.”