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Fisher River seeks additional funds

| July 30, 2007 12:00 AM

By ERIKA KIRSCH Western News Editor

A public hearing was held Wednesday morning with Lincoln County Commissioner Chairman Rita Windom to discuss increasing the service fee for the Fisher River Fire Service.

Currently, a service fee of $90 is assessed on each housing unit in the district. The Fisher River Fire Service is asking to increase that fee to $140 to provide enough funding for adequate coverage. The increase was derived from equipment costs and increased fuel costs, according to Fisher River Fire Service Chairman George Neils.

A five-year business plan was presented by Ed LaBudde, of the Fisher River Fire Service Board of Trustees. A budget of $40,000 per year was derived from the business plan, which would allow for maintenance of equipment, additional equipment, training and other additional resources.

There are two goals of the fire service, LaBudde said. Those include protecting the environment and raising funds for the fire department. With 15 new structures being built in the area, additional funds will likely be included on the tax rolls, LaBudde continued. There are also plans for 70 new lots to go into the area, he said.

The fire service had a surplus of $10,000 last year and Plum Creek gave $30,000 to the Fisher River Fire Service, as well, to go toward mitigation for a subdivision that will be built in the Fisher River district, LaBudde said. Therefore, a fund of $40,000 has been established for the core needs, such as basic repairs, maintenance, gas and oil. The $40,000 is also seen as a cushion for three years of loan payments, LaBudde continued. Upgrades on equipment will be paid for by loans and grant money, LaBudde explained.

"We tried to do this last year," LaBudde said. "But there was so much opposition."

Fisher River Fire Service blankets a very rural area and volunteers use 30-year-old equipment, Neils said. Volunteers do not respond to many structure fires. They responded to one structure fire, one vehicle fire and 22 wildland fires last year, he said. They received a total of 44 calls, with 25 of those being mutual aid calls.

"Wildlands protection is structure protection. This year is extraordinary as far as wildland protection.

"Growth should be paid for by new development, not current homeowners," Neils said.

Several residents were at the public hearing to voice their opinions on the increase. E-mails and letters were also sent to commissioners regarding the increase, Windom said.

An e-mail from Will and Sue Vincent read "after researching, [Fisher River Fire Service] is already charging the most in the county. We think they should send a letter to all the residents explaining the reason for the increase."

With the plan, there would be no additional increases for the next five years once the fees increase to $140 per housing unit. Within that plan is an assumption of a 10 percent increase per year in fuel costs and 3 percent per year for inflation, LaBudde explained during the hearing.

"For the record, I'm in favor of an increase as a homeowner and a resident," said audience member Paul Rumelhart.

No decision was made during Wednesday's meeting. A decision will be made at commissioner's meeting at a later date, Windom said.