Fire board finalizes 2011-12 budget
Grand jury response, Folsom’s annexation plans also discussed
The El Dorado Hills Fire Board adopted its nearly $15 million final budget for fiscal year 2011-12 at its Thursday meeting.
The final budget includes several significant changes from the preliminary budget, including an additional $390,000 in property tax revenue — the result of actual tax revenues for 2010-11 down only 1.34 percent from 2009-10. The preliminary budget assumed a 5 percent reduction.
The $390,000 partially offsets a $1.1 million transfer from the $14.3 million general reserve for a CalPERS side fund payoff, saving the district roughly $70,000 in interest over the next nine years.
On the expense side, the most significant addition is a $600,000 transfer from the capital equipment reserve, which as of June 2010 contained $7.2 million, to possibly replace the ladder truck slated for replacement in 2012-13.
Deputy Chief Jim O’Camb explained that the city of Lincoln has a ladder truck sitting unused, built to strict Orange County fire standards and likely available for much less than its original $1.1 million price.
“They’re laying firefighters off,” said O’Camb. “It’s never rolled on a call. They’ve never been able to staff it.”
He told the board that he and Chief Dave Roberts plan to offer Lincoln $500,000 for the truck, with another $100,000 budgeted for equipment upgrades.
The current ladder truck would be kept as a backup. O’Camb promised an “apparatus plan” that makes best use of the current truck, and allocates other backup apparatus in the fleet for disposal.
Other expenses added to the final budget include a $75,000 computer system upgrade for new file servers, $49,000 for immediate improvements and conceptual plans to eventually upgrade the aging Station 84 on Francisco Drive, $40,000 to extend the EID sewer line to Station 87 on Bass Lake Road and $25,000 to possibly replace dysfunctional laptops on the engines with tablet computers.
The result is a $14,984,437 2011-12 budget, down from the $16,108,638 2010-11 budget, and actual expenditures of $15,455,159 in 2010-11.
Most notably, the downsized and reorganized district’s critical salaries and benefits category is down $1.5 million to $11,887,839 from last year’s actuals.
Grand jury response
The only member of the public attending Thursday’s meeting, Richard Ross of El Dorado Hills, complemented the board on their response to the El Dorado County Grand Jury, calling it “well constructed and well sourced.” But Ross said worried that the responses to narrow or poorly worded questions might be construed as district policy at a later date.
He questioned the board’s strategy of responding to the grand jury’s exact questions rather than residents’ actual concerns, as expressed by him and other budgetary “watchdogs” over the last several months.
Board Vice President John Hidahl, fresh off a Grand Jury primer in the prior night’s Area Planning Advisory Committee meeting, explained that the exchange of information between the grand jury and the agencies it investigates is very limited.
“The public doesn’t benefit from the process as much as it could if there were more opportunity to dialogue on these things before the report comes out.”
The result, said Hidahl, is that agencies respond to the questions as written, typically treating their responses the way a business or individual responds to an audit.
“We answered their questions and offered little more,” he said.
Ross’s concerns involved salary and benefits in the most recent union contract which he contends are still excessive. The board agreed to meet with Ross and address his concerns specifically. Village Life will be there, and report those discussions in detail.
Ross also questioned why the prepayment of $1.09 million CalPERS side fund was placed in a special category in the final budget. “Placing it outside the wage and benefit category seems to be a misrepresentation of what the employees are getting,” he said.
District Chief Financial Officer Connie Baer explained that the one-time expense was carried in a separate category “to avoid spiking.”
She consulted an auditor and another large district, she said. Each recommended carrying it separately.
“We’re not trying to hide it,” she said. “It’s big and bold, but it’s not a normal recurring cost.”
Hidahl thanked Ross for attending. “I can’t fix what I don’t know,” said Hidahl. “So I really appreciate you coming here and expressing your concerns.”
The final budget document is available on the district website, edhfire.com.
Folsom’s Community Development Director David Miller and Folsom Fire Chief Ron Phillips delivered an overview of the plans for the city’s sphere of influence south of Highway 50.
The potential annexation has been submitted to the Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission as a pre-application. The city is currently finalizing agreements with other affected agencies. Both El Dorado Hills Fire and Sacramento Metro Fire currently have portions of the proposed annexation within their districts. Those areas qualify both districts as “multi-jurisdiction service areas,” which qualifies each for exemptions from state-enacted tax shifts of up to 10 percent of district revenue.
Current annexation plans lets both districts retain their boundaries, and their tax status, said Miller. A “revenue/tax sharing agreement” between Folsom and El Dorado Hills is needed for the final LAFCO application. The board agreed, and assigned legal counsel Mike Cook to hammer it out and bring it back to the administration subcommittee.
Miller reported that LAFCO officials haven’t indicated any opposition thus far to retaining the existing fire district boundaries.
Folsom will eventually construct new fire stations that will provide first response to the annexed area. El Dorado Hills Fire will still respond as a mutual-aid resource.