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Fire district seeks funds for Deputy Chief with levy posted on 03/01/2019

In a unanimous decision during a February meeting, the board of directors of the Hoodland Fire District approved putting a Local Option Levy on the May ballot to fund a Deputy Chief position. The district has lacked an officer in that position since John Ingrao took over as Chief after Mic Eby’s retirement at the end of 2016.

Chief Ingrao, who served as the Deputy Chief under Eby, noted several benefits to adding a Deputy Chief, including always having three paramedics on duty and having a second command officer to ensure proper coverage in the district.

“It’s an issue, there’s no department that only has one chief, except for small rural ones,” Ingrao said, adding that he would like to retire next year. “To me, it is a matter of succession planning (and) resources to go on multiple calls.”

The levy, set to last for five years, would have a rate of 25 cents per thousand on property in the district, resulting in a charge of approximately $38 on a house with a valuation of $150,000. Ingrao acknowledged that nobody wants higher taxes, but the district is unable to add the position with the current finances.

“It’s just a healthy thing for an organization and there’s no other way for us to get to it with the budget,” he said.

Ingrao added that after he became Chief, it was decided that the district should go to 24-hour staffing (before then, paid staff covered the district for 12 hours per day, leaving a hole in advanced life support coverage). To reach that level, the Deputy Chief position was left vacant; a plan that was intended to last for 18 months but has now stretched past two years.

To gauge the feasibility of a levy being passed by voters, the board hired Campbell DeLong Resources, Inc., which conducted phone polling in January this year. 152 voters answered a variety of questions, with the analysis revealing 70 of those polled as likely to vote for the levy “if the election were held today,” based on their initial reaction.

82 percent of the respondents categorized themselves as people who “always vote,” and the same percentage have lived in the area served by the HFD for more than 10 years. The average age of respondents was 67. 56 percent of the voters polled reported contact by themselves or a family member with the HFD in the past year.

71 percent of the voters polled noted the HFD offered “excellent service,” while 61 percent saw the district as being efficient with tax money.

Should the levy be approved by voters in the May election, Ingrao noted the position is unlikely to be filled from within due to the number of classes and certifications required.

Ingrao added that it has been more than 20 years since the district asked the community to approve a levy.

Ingrao plans on presenting the levy to local service agencies, faith-based groups and other organizations in the coming months.

By Garth Guibord/MT

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