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New Fire Budget Approved
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With just over two-thirds of its budget dedicated to personnel and associated costs, the newly approved Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District budget will take effect July 1.

"The final number is $1,137,875," Fire Chief Rick Mello explained of expenditures.

Salaries, retirement, health benefits and overtime account for about 67 percent of that, with the department anticipating $1,123,000 in revenue.

"For this year, there are no equipment purchases" built into the budget, said Mello, noting that the existing vehicles in service are still meeting the needs.

"It was a stop gap measure a couple of years ago, we re-evaluated the equipment replacement plan, and we pushed back everything from a 20-year to a 25-year replacement schedule," the chief said.

The department is also downsizing its fleet, over time, trying to hold the line on costs and looking to keep services current but with less equipment on hand.

"When you add up the fuel and maintenance costs, and all the mandates we have to meet, it doesn't get any cheaper year after year," Mello added.

The department is not a city entity and doesn't receive any funding through the City of Escalon budget. Instead, its income is derived from property tax revenue, and through fire facilities (developers') fees. Miscellaneous service fees, assessed to out of district residents for such things as fire and accident response, also account for some of the income. Those fees have been in place since 1991. The department also receives some memorial donations.

"We're always looking at grants, and we will be part of a regional grant here this year for personal protective equipment," Mello said. "We're applying for that with several other districts, and that's due in July."

The budget, approved by a 3-0 vote of the fire board with two members absent, is a balanced spending plan and also includes about $65,000 in a reserve fund for contingencies.

Board members Andy Dugo, John Wright and Joe Camara were the board members on hand for the budget vote.

"We were able to do some good adjusting this year," added Mello.

One vacant firefighter position has not been filled, accounting for a drop in the overall expenditure for salaries, even as there was a cost of living adjustment given in the form of raises.

"We also did some reworking of the health benefits, those costs also went down substantially and we maintained our health and vision plan," Mello said.

The department is in the process of filling a battalion chief post, with 18 applications received. Pared down to eight by the firm working with the department on the personnel hire, Mello said it has been narrowed down to the final three. Those interviews will conclude this week, with Mello and fire board vice chair Steve Reichmuth conducting the interviews.

"The goal is for Aug. 1," Mello said of having the position filled.

Of the final three candidates, two are from California and one is from Washington State.