Mills Mayor: Town Wants to Hear Ideas for Fire Department
The Mills Town Council wants to hear from its residents and others in Natrona County about the best way to guarantee emergency services after last week's decision to end its professional fire department except for administrative staff, according to a news release from the mayor.
The council passed a resolution at its April 24 meeting after trying for years to find a way to fund the department, which has been subsidized by about $800,000 annually with Optional One-cent Sales Tax revenues intended for infrastructure, Seth Coleman wrote.
The town has been looking at options including a volunteer fire department that would pay volunteers when they respond to calls, and having full-time personnel reinforced by those volunteers and contracting with outside agencies, Coleman wrote.
"The Town of Mills has never intended, and will not request, to have any agency cover the cost of fire response in our Town," he wrote.
"The Town will seek partnerships in the interim where appropriate to provide the same level of service that is currently being provided until a structure is determined and established," Coleman wrote. "These adjustments will service the needs of the Town within the budget that the current funding allows, without using One Cent funds for the operation."
Casper Fire Chief Tom Solberg said neither he, the Casper Fire Department nor Casper officials have been contacted by Mills town officials about the issue.
Coleman recounted the financial difficulties of the department and the town.
When the department went professional, it operated an ambulance serve that would support the department. Those anticipated revenues turned into annual losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, he wrote
Operating it became an unworkable burden on the town as costs rose from $60,000 in 2000, to $220,000 when it became a blended volunteer/professional department, to $859,000 in 2014 when it became fully professional, Coleman wrote.
The town budgeted $1,086,000 for the department in the current fiscal year before reducing it to $919,072 to reallocate unused funds because of unfilled paid positions. The ambulance service has generated $145,000 so far this fiscal year, he wrote.
Operating the department costs $3,000 a day, and it responds to 1.5 calls a day with three firefighters on each shift, Coleman wrote.
"The Mills Fire Department currently employs nine trained personnel, much lower than what a volunteer department typically has available to it for emergencies," he wrote.
The town has looked at ways to cut costs including having fire department staff do other public safety tasks, changing shift schedules, and in November took emergency medical services billing from a third party agencies, Coleman wrote.
But they have not been enough to cover the losses, and the town must use one-cent funds to leverage grants to make repairs on its infrastructure, he wrote.