The El Dorado County Fire District Board of Directors received further confirmation of the district’s dismal financial condition Thursday night when its auditor reported a $1.4 million dollar deficit for the prior fiscal year.
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Certified Public Accountant Craig Fechter, of Fechter and Company, said the district received $9.7 million in revenues and had $11.1 million in expenses in the past fiscal year.
He also told the board that this was the third consecutive year it has had a deficit of this size.
The main driver of the problem, according to Fechter, was the drop in property tax revenue that declined starting in 2008-2009 at the same time the fire department budget continued to grow.
The auditor said that other fire districts he audits that are also totally reliant on property tax revenue are in a similar position.
Former fire district employee Barbara Rogers chastised the board and asked it to account for where the money went as she complained of the lack of fiscal oversight by the board, fire chief and staff. “How do you lose $1.4 million in one year?” she asked. “You gave raises when you didn’t have the money. Somebody has to be held accountable.”
Ex-board member Col. Tom Mahach said the district apparently didn’t have the million-dollar carryover it thought it had. He asked the district do an internal investigation of how it happened to prevent it from happening again. If it doesn’t, he warned, the grand jury may look into it.
Also discussed at the meeting was a request by Mike Sproull, executive director of the Food Bank of El Dorado County, to waive the fire development fees for a new facility they are building in Shingle Springs.
He said he was told the Food Bank would have to pay $89,000 in fire district fees for the building. He asked the board to waive the fees or at least consider creating a policy that gives the district the flexibility to waive fees for non-profit groups like his.
Responding to questions about the matter, Acting Fire Chief Mike Hardy told the board that the Food Bank plans to build a 20,000 square foot building and the fees would be a little under $25,000, not $89,000. He said there are development fees regardless of who the developer is and they are used to defray district expenses.
“We’re trying to keep the place afloat,” said board President Mark Brunton.
Sproul urged the fire district to be more a part of the community, saying the people he serves did not create the fiscal problems facing the district. He said El Dorado County waives certain fees all the time, and the fire district should develop a similar approach. “I respect your decision,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s the right decision. Do you really want $30,000 from a charity?”
In response, board member Mark Johnson said fire people already do a lot of volunteering and give a great deal back to the community. He also commented that development fees don’t go towards salaries, but towards equipment.
“Development fees give the firemen the tools they need to do their jobs,” said board member Chris Swarbrick.
In other actions, Christopher Vankirk was promoted to captain and the board voted to dispose of surplus equipment.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.