The Valley City Rural Fire Department Board of Directors voted unanimously to continue with efforts to form a fire district at its annual meeting on Tuesday.
Currently, the rural fire department, which serves 14 townships surrounding Valley City, operates on dues paid by participating townships based a levy of 1.5 mills or about 7.5 cents per acre and $11 per $100,00 of residential value. To operate as a fire district would allow the department to levy its own tax of up to five mills, although board president Pete Paulson said as a fire district, they would likely only levy enough to cover expenses, maybe 2.5 mills.
To become a fire district, the board needs to have a petition signed by 60 percent of resident landowners in the affected townships, or approximately 350 signatures, according to board president Pete Paulson. Once petitions have been signed, they would need to be certified by the Barnes County Auditor before final approval came from the Barnes County Commission.
A petition circulated in 2011 garnered about 160 uncertified signatures.
Currently, the Valley City Rural Fire Department has about $160,000 in cash on hand including three Certificates of Deposit totaling about $121,500, some of which will mature in the next few months.
In 2012 the fire department responded to 48 fire calls and earned about $47,000 in fees, reimbursed fire calls, state fire insurance payments, and other sources while miscellaneous expenses and fire calls, including payments made to firefighters totaled about $43,000.
According to Paulson, the department has enough money to operate for the short term, but maybe not for the long term.
In 2012, the Valley City Rural Fire Department paid firefighters $9 per hour while on a fire call. In addition, each time a firefighter reported to the fire hall for a call, that firefighter earned one point. Each point earned was worth $7, payable at the end of the year.
In 2012, the department paid firefighters about $7,200 in wages and $5,400 in points.
At the request of fire chief Gary Ratterath, the board increased the per-hour wage for firefighters to $12 per hour. According to Ratterath, many firefighterâ€™s employers no longer reimburse them for time on a fire call, and at the old wage, it was getting difficult to get firefighters to go on fire calls.
Although the board did not raise the value of points, it did vote to award secretary Lori Jury a point for each fire call, in addition to a $750 per-year bonus, to help with her expenses as she performs recording and clerical duties after each fire call.
Ratterath also requested $20,000 to purchase bunker gear which would be matched by the Valley City Fire Department, which shares the rural fire departmentâ€™s equipment, and another $4,000 to purchase miscellaneous equipment including a new saw and new panel lights. Ratterath explained that he had applied for a $5,000 grant to help cover those expenses.
Ratterath also told the board that rent on the Valley City Police Department building, where the rural fire department currently houses its equipment, would nearly double in 2013 to $14,000.
Paulson explained that with the current state of the departmentâ€™s expenses, the board should negotiate with the city before making any financial commitment.
The board voted to form a committee to negotiate with the city and to hold another meeting at a later date to discuss the purchases.
The board also instructed Ratterath to look over the mutual aid contracts with surrounding fire departments in an effort to recoup more expenses from mutual aid calls. Currently, mutual aid calls are billed to the fire victimâ€™s insurance, though the contracts allow direct billing for materials, etc.
The board voted unanimously to leave officers and board members unchanged for 2013. Officers are: Paulson, president; Neil Pederson, vice president; Jury, secretary; Dick Gulmon, treasurer; and Ratterath, fire chief.
Members of the board of directors are; Bjarne Breske, Alta Township; Terry Kuder, Ashtabula Township; Fred Gruman, Cuba Township; Bruce Shanenko, Getchell Township; John Molstad, Grand Prairie Township; Greg Kjelland, Green Township; Dennis Laumb, Hobart Township; Pederson, Marsh Township; John Stevens, Nelson; Albert K. Wittenberg, Noltimier Township; Darrell Holm, Norma Township; Chuck Reidman, Skandia Township; Paulson, Stewart Township; and Robert Bruns, Valley Township.