House responded quickly, “It’s only one man’s opinion.”
After the public hearing on the budget was held at which no one came forward to speak, House opened the budget question discussion preceding the vote by saying, “Adding 20 cents on to the tax rate doesn’t balance this budget.” He was told that the $2.55 tax rate could be maintained because $814,000 was being shifted from the Capital Projects Fund.
House then stated, “We never voted on it.” He added that usually the budget has been “fine tuned” at the June board meeting, but that hadn’t happened this year. Director Justin Jackson offered, “It’s (the money in the Capital Project’s Fund) has been put aside as a ‘rainy day fund,’ and now it’s raining.”
Interim Chief Paul Bourgeoise indicated he approved by noting that because of recent fire engine purchases and other capital monies expended, “I don’t anticipate any major capital expenditures for several years.”
This finalized budget is a more than $4 million increase from the 2011-2012 budget of $13,598,00 that had been decreased from the previous year. The increased funding will raise the tax rate from $2.35 last year to $2.55 for the upcoming year. The new $2.55 base rate, coupled with the unchanged 22 cents bond tax rate, will bring the total tax rate to $2.77, one of the highest rates in the district’s history, but well under the cap of $3.25.
The rationale for increased expenditures included the staffing of Station 265 that just opened, and to that end and to fill vacancies, the addition of 11 new fire recruit employees who have just completed their training. (These firefighters were introduced at the July 3 meeting.)
Also affecting the tax rate rise was the fact that the district’s net assessed valuation has dropped approximately 5.5 percent for the upcoming year.
After the meeting, when House was asked why he voted “no” on the budget, he said, “I had some ideas to cut the budget and keep the tax rate lower. This is what my constituents wanted, and I listen to the people who elect me to represent them.”
“I tried to bring these ideas up when the budget was being discussed, but nobody else wanted to talk about them,” he emphasized. “I had the guts to vote ‘no.’” from Fire Board, A-1 An informational sheet passed by fire district officials early in the budget consideration theorized that even with a rise of 20 cents in the base tax rate, most homeowners, because of the general drop in assessed valuations, will not see a significant rise in their taxes.
In other business, the board unanimously agreed to remove the fire chief’s position from the AJFD (Personnel) Classification System, allowing the board of directors leeway in drafting a contract with the fire chief and including whatever conditions and compensation they can negotiate.
During the discussion on this agenda item, board members agreed with Weaver who cited the advantages of this arrangement being that the board could better “spell things out” in the contract, and they also could offer more competitive salaries and conditions over the long term to candidates they wanted. “It would give us more control and involvement,” said Weaver. “And we have learned the hard way about the relationship between the chief and the board and the other employees.”