Wellington Fire District budget at stake with Issue 15

404

Jason Hawk | Wellington Enterprise
Firefighters Dave Crawford and Jimmy Nemeth and Assistant Chief Bill Brown are asking voters for support on March 17.

JASON HAWK
EDITOR

Firefighters are asking for voters to approve more than $4.6 million over the next five years to keep the Wellington Community Fire District running smoothly.

Issue 15 on the March ballot is a 2.75-mill replacement levy that would generate about $922,500 each year.

Right now, the owner of a $100,000 home pays $81.97 per year to the fire district. If the levy is approved, that amount would increase by $14.28.

“This is 99.9 percent of our budget. This puts fuel in the truck, fixes things, keeps equipment up to date, obviously pays salaries,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bill Brown.

He said firefighter salaries make up about 45 percent of the budget, which is much lower than most government agencies.

Most of the money is used to purchase and upgrade equipment.

For example, turnout gear worn on calls has to be replaced every 10 years or so, and an 18-year-old fire engine is nearing the end of its useful life, according to Chief Mike Wetherbee. A new engine is estimated to cost around $470,000.

Fuel costs have gone up, and firefighters need a new digital radio system, said Brown.

“I think we do a good job of being transparent. We tell you what we want to do with the money,” he said.
Brown said he’s confident voters will make the right decision — support has always been high in past elections. “But of course you always wonder and you always worry a little bit,” he said.

If voters don’t pass Issue 15, it won’t cause any immediate issues, said Brown.

The fire district could operate for another two years with its savings, he said. But Wellington fire officials are trying to be responsible and plan ahead for big expenses.

The levy money won’t be used for expansion of the Kelly Street fire station.

That project has been in the works for several years and just suffered a serious setback. Brown said two bids for a 6,000-square-foot addition came in much higher than expected, pushing back a spring groundbreaking date.

He and Wetherbee are looking at options and expect a decision in a couple of months. The project might have to be sidelined if prices don’t come down.

Five companies expressed interest in building the fire station addition. Several dropped out.

Brown said higher bids were due in part to increased tariffs on steel and other building materials.

The last addition to the station was built in 1996. At the time, it was clear more space would eventually be needed, Brown said.