Drought contributes to increased calls and expenses for Jamestown Rural Fire Department
Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun, N.D.
May 20—The severe drought across Stutsman County is taking a toll on the operating budget of the Jamestown Rural Fire Department, according to Brian Paulson, chief of the department.
Paulson and Richard Klose, chair of the JRFD board of directors, told the Stutsman County Commission Tuesday that the budget for the department is strained.
“For the last eight or nine weeks we’ve been running about nonstop,” Paulson said. “We’ve pretty much hit the year-end budget in May.”
He said expenditures such as fuel for the fire trucks and stipends for the firefighters are the biggest concerns.
“We are limited to 5 mills,” he said, referring to the fire district’s operating budget. “Anything over that and we have to go to the voters. We did that to fund the building but we can’t use that (building fund) money for anything else.”
A 5 mill property tax generates about $22 per $100,000 of residential value within the fire district and provides about $208,000 annually for the operations of the department, Paulson said. The Rural Fire Department also receives funding from the North Dakota Insurance Department and does fundraising such as an annual ice fishing tournament.
Paulson said the number and length of the fire calls are both up this year.
“In 2018 we had 35 calls for the year,” he said. “This year, as of May 18, we’ve had 70 calls, and we still have seven months to go.”
Some of the calls have kept firefighters on the scene for as long as 10 or 12 hours, putting a strain on the firefighters, their families and their employers, Paulson said.
“If the family and work situation isn’t working, the firefighters aren’t going out to the fire,” Paulson said. “We need to give a special thanks to the employers and family because they are the ones being hurt.”
Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, said it was good for the Rural Fire Department to provide information about the current situation. He said the county is doing what it can to prevent wildfires by listing the current fire danger on the county’s website each day.
“I can’t imagine too many people not knowing the fire danger,” Klose said.
It is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,500 and 30 days in jail, although the prosecution of each case is determined by the Stutsman County state’s attorney and the amount of fine or possible jail time determined by the judge assigned to the case.
Financially, Paulson said the department is hoping disaster money will become available.
“The governor and the county have declared emergencies,” he said. “Those types of declarations should open the avenue for funds.”
Stutsman County declared a fire emergency on April 6 while the state declaration was announced on April 1.
There is another change the Jamestown Rural Fire Department is hoping for.
“We need a weather change,” Paulson said. “It won’t solve the financial issues but hopefully the emergency declarations help free some funds.”
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