February 21, 2018
February 21, 2018
Commissioners Scott Blain and Bill Bullock, and DES Coord. / GIS Mgr. Tom Kohley were present.
7:00 pm Meeting called to order. The special meeting was held to discuss the possible formation of a fire district in the Warren area. The meeting was held at the Bridger School Multi-purpose room.
Ron Kapor Bridger, Randy Elton Edgar, Debby Elton Edgar, Mike Jones Frannie WY, Dave Loyning Frannie WY, Tami Holdsworth Frannie WY, Paul Loyning Frannie, Lindsay Murray Bridger, Bob Mangus Lovell WY, Jim Minchow Lovell WY, Ron Salyer Lovell WY, Steven Fendler Bridger, Mark Richards Bridger, Roger Webber Bridger, Marvin Schwend Bridger, Charles Reed Edgar, Ron Reed Edgar, Dan Schwend Bridger, Ross Schwend Bridger, Les Schwend Bridger, Gloria Morgan Billings, Nanette Stevens Billings, Jeff Flick USFS Fire Management Officer, and Derek Yeager DNRC Fire Management Officer were present.
Tom Kohley gave an overview of the purpose of the meeting; he noted the meeting was called to explore whether residents need or desire and increased level of fire protection and to discuss the possibility of creating a rural fire district for the area. Tom noted the area under discussion is the only part of Carbon County not presently covered by a rural fire district. The area consisted of 213,000 acres under federal land management, 8,500 acres of state land, and 91,000 acres owned by private individuals. Responsibility for fire protection falls on the County, but the area has relied on Bridger and Big Horn County WY Fire District #5 to respond to fires in the area. Tom noted those volunteer districts are not currently being compensated for their responses. Tom noted if a district was formed, board of trustees would have control over taxes levied and how money collected is spent.
The public asked questions about how other state and federal agencies overlap with providing fire protection. Tom noted the district would focus on private and state lands as the Forest Service and BLM have their own fire protection. Tom also noted under the DNRC Cooperative Fire agreement, mutual aid response covers all areas of Carbon County for wildland fires. Darek Yeager explained the cooperative agreement with DNRC and history of fire suppression assessments with the state “affidavit unit.” The area is currently covered for wildland fire protection with the DNRC agreement.
Commissioner Bullock noted creation of district would leverage funds that could be used to heighten response to fires. Tom noted the district may have multiple mutual aid agreements for response to different areas within the district. (14:30) Tom Kohley reviewed the process to create a new fire district under Montana Code Annotated. It is a petition process initiated by the residents; Tom and Commissioners reiterated they do not have the ability or desire to create the district without landowner support. (16:45)
Residents noted responding districts are taking on liability and risk for fires in the area without compensation. The consensus from the audience was in favor of having tax revenues to provide a stipend or “retainer” to help guarantee response from those districts. There was some discussion regarding ambulance services. Tom Kohley noted ambulance services would be separate from the creation of a fire district; he noted creating a district could help pave the way for additional cooperative efforts. Residents discussed subscriptions to air ambulance services. (29:00)
There was a discussion of federal funds from the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Residents asked if those funds were currently being spent on fire protection. It was noted funds are being used help pay for Search and Rescue operations and ambulance services and to supplement other County funds. (34:00) Tom introduced Jeff Flick the Forrest Service Fire Management Officer with the Beartooth Ranger District. He discussed firefighting coordination efforts between local, state, and federal agencies. (38:15)
Residents discussed tax bills and various assessments and levies collected by other special districts in the county. (42:00). Tom Kohley noted the County is working on interstate mutual aid agreements for emergency response with Wyoming counties. (49:10)
Tom Kohley noted, if landowners in support County would assist in drafting and circulating the petition. Resident asked for clarification on control over district. Commissioners and Tom noted the district could be created with an elected governing Board that would control the taxes levied and how money spent.
It was also clarified that affidavit land assessments are only for wildland fires and do not cover structure fires. The State noted if a district is created and individuals wanted to opt out of affidavit coverage, that issue could be addressed at that time.
The general consensus was in support of creating the district. (1:16:06) Tom suggested a way to move forward would be for county to send out another mailer with some examples of impacts to properties at various mill levy values.
Respectfully submitted: Angela Newell, Administrative Assistant