Borough assembly to consider adding 15 fire and EMS positions

The George A. Navarre Kenai Peninsula Borough building. (Peninsula Clarion file photo)

The George A. Navarre Kenai Peninsula Borough building. (Peninsula Clarion file photo)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will vote on a resolution during its Tuesday meeting that would add 15 new positions to various fire and emergency medical service areas within the borough. The positions would just be added for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2021, but if kept beyond that are estimated to cost about $2 million annually.

Sponsored by Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, the resolution would allow the assembly to use available Fiscal Year 2021 funds to add a total of 15 positions spread between Central Emergency Services, Nikiski Fire Service Area, Kachemak Emergency Services and Western Emergency Services.

These positions would be for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2021, the resolution notes, and would be possible in part due to an increase in funding from the CARES Act. The resolution also states that the assembly would agree to assess whether to continue the positions into FY2022, which would be presented by Pierce as part of the FY2022 budget process.

The boards governing Central Emergency Services, Nikiski Fire Service Area and Kachemak Emergency Services all recently requested additional personnel to handle increased call volume, according to a memo from Pierce to the assembly.

“The requests are based upon a systemic surge in call runs and other emergency service needs,” Pierce wrote.

Of the 15 total positions in the resolution, Western Emergency Services was already slated to receive five, as part of the ongoing transition work to combine the fire and EMS service areas in Ninilchik and Anchor Point. When voters approved the formation of the new combined service area, part of that plan included five additional positions, so that Western Emergency Services would have a total of 10 paid staff members.

The resolution would add three firefighter positions and one senior captain for Central Emergency Services, three firefighters and one assistant chief position for Nikiski Fire Service Area, two firefighters for Kachemak Emergency Services, and the already planned four firefighters and one assistant chief for Western Emergency Services.

“With the unexpected infusion of CARES funding to support COVID-19 related expenditures in FY2021 personnel costs, these (fire service areas) have excess funding available in amounts that can permit the ability to increase the number of personnel in each of their departments for the remainder of FY2021,” Pierce wrote in the memo to the assembly. “This number of personnel per department can be sustained into FY2022 if approved during the assembly budget meetings.”

Assembly member Willy Dunne, one of the two members representing the Homer area, has offered an amendment to the resolution that would allow the five hires for Western Emergency Services to go forward as planned, but would delay the other 10 position additions until they could be addressed as part of the borough’s normal budget process. He’s concerned that the public was not given enough notice about the other 10 fire and EMS positions for Nikiski, Central Emergency Services and Kachemak Emergency Services.

“We’ve known for many months that we’d be hiring five employees for that service area,” he said of Western Emergency Services. The same is not true for the other 10 positions, he said.

According to the resolution, the combined cost to add all 15 positions for the remainder FY2021 (which ends in June) would be $631,868. Central Emergency Services, Kachemak Emergency Services and Nikiski Emergency Service Area all have more funds available in their operating budgets than it would cost to add the positions, due to CARES Act relief funding, according to the resolution. Western Emergency Services currently has a little more than $86,300 in its operating budget, but is slated to get an additional $111,700 from the borough as part of the ongoing process to form that service area.

Beyond the cost to add the new fire and EMS positions this fiscal year, there would be an annual cost to keep them. That’s the part that concerns Dunne. He reached out to the borough’s finance department to get an estimate on what it would cost to pay for the 15 additional positions year-round. According to a budget document from the finance department, provided to the Homer News by Dunne, the projected cost to pay for 15 new fire and EMS positions for the entirety of FY2022 is just over $2 million. That fiscal year starts in July.

Broken down by service area, the positions would cost about $593,500 for Nikiski Fire Service Area, the same for Central Emergency Services, about $230,800 for Kachemak Emergency Services and about $660,500 for Western Emergency Services.

That money has to come from either the borough’s budget or the residents who live in those fire and EMS service areas, which operate off funding levied on property taxes. For example, the mill rate for the new Western Emergency Service Area will be 2.95 mills, while Kachemak Emergency Services is currently set at 2.6 mills, and Nikiski’s is 2.7 mills.

Dunne said he thinks the conversation of whether to add these new positions permanently ought to take place as part of the borough’s regular budget discussions and process. The CARES Act funding for fire and EMS personnel that would allow the positions to be added during this fiscal year is one-time funding, he said.

Dunne also said having this conversation during the regular budget process would allow the assembly to consider the need for additional fire and EMS personnel in the greater context of the borough’s overall budget. That includes the borough’s other service areas for hospitals and roads, he said.

“We need to look at the impact to taxpayers overall,” Dunne said.

To read the full resolution and accompanying memo, visit kpb.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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