As a Trustee, I voted against the resolution to submit to the taxpayers a permanent levy of 70.63 mills, increasing by 3 percent per year, beginning at approximately $1,154,494. As a district taxpayer, I will vote against the same on the mail ballot due back by April 10.
Yes, Evergreen Fire District (EFD) is where it is today because of the efforts of the personnel. It is the changes and challenges it has faced during the last 10 years that has given its character today of effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness; a character trait of entrepreneurship. The changes of volunteer to paid personnel, coupled with responding to increased calls within EFD and Flathead County, continue to challenge personnel costs.
Yes, there is personnel turnover, but this turnover has given EFD its personality and character today. Is it high? Some would say yes. It is expected? Yes. EFD is a rural district in an unincorporated area of Flathead County. It is not a municipality. It still has a rural flavor, with some municipal density characteristics. EFD has had many of its personnel move on to higher paying EMT/Paramedic/Firefighter jobs in municipalities both inside and outside Montana. Additionally, a number of personnel have gone into various aspects of the health care Industry. Some will say it is wrong that EFD is a stepping-stone, or training ground, for other entities. Some will say we need to “keep our own here.” I believe for most, it is a normal progression of improving ones lot in life. There are some who want to remain and we, as the EFD community, need to address these needs.
I am not sure the proposed burden of increased labor costs, health insurance and retirement are the answer today. Increased labor costs include 16 well-paid positions; health insurance with a $1,000 per month per employee EFD contribution; and retirement with a 14.4 percent per employee EFD contribution to a defined benefit plan. There is also $250,000 per year budgeted, but not required, toward the capital improvement fund contribution for vehicle and equipment replacement which I believe is underfunded by 20 percent. Without good equipment, the effectiveness of personnel is limited. Committed allocation should be expected through a specified mill amount in the levy language, which does not exist.
Can all this be done for less? Yes. But, it will take the community of EFD to work together to arrive at the “added cost.” The levy proposal was developed internally, with a presentation to a couple of community members. I do not believe it was adequately vetted. I do not believe the proposed Montana Firefighters’ Unified Retirement System (FURS) defined benefit plan is the answer with its unfunded liability, which could fall on the Montana taxpayer to cover the deficit. A Defined Contribution is the better option because it does not have the unfunded liability aspect. I believe the $1,000 per month health insurance contribution per employee is a higher benefit than most residents in EFD and Flathead County receive. The labor costs include wages 30 percent higher than the Evergreen area per capital income average. Evergreen has its own Census designation and the data shows Evergreen’s per capita income lower than Flathead County’s average and the average for the state of Montana.
Additionally be aware, the annual 3 percent increase in mill levy is separate and apart from the annual 2 percent to 3 percent increase in property valuations, to which the mill levy is applied. This means the effective annual revenue increase may be 5 percent to 6 percent. Just thought you should know.
I have been an EFD Trustee since 2007. As a Trustee, I helped facilitate the planning, design, funding, and construction of new Station 81. It is a great facility; something EFD Community can be proud of. In the years since, I have seen the transition EFD is experiencing and I am not blind to its current and future needs. I have been, and continue to be, involved in a number of public entities responsible for millions of dollars of operational budgets and construction budgets. I have seen poor planning and its associated unanticipated costs. I have seen the effectiveness of good planning and execution because of cost controls. Though the direction is warranted, the proposal is too costly, with too many opened-ended liabilities without controls. The mill levy proposal needs to be re-done and brought back to the voters. I am voting “NO.” Please consider doing the same. It needs to be done right!