April Board Meeting Minutes

BOARD MEETING, April 25th, 2017

Call to Order/Roll Call/Affirmation of Quorum/Pledge of Allegiance:

Chairperson, Michelle Bell, called the meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. The meeting was held in the Whetstone Fire District Station 321 classroom, 2422 N Firehouse Lane, Huachuca City, Arizona.

Members Present:

Michelle Bell, Chairperson
Albert Suhajda, Clerk
Pamela Cohen, Board Member (sworn in at 6:11)

Staff Present:

Pete Bidon, Fire Chief (arrived at 6:22)
Cathy Dyer, Office Manager (arrived at 6:22)
Lauri J. Owen, M.A., J.D., Esq.


Bobby Chapman, Board Member

It was determined a quorum existed with three board members present.

Call to the Public:

No members of the public wished to address the board.

Old Business:

1. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of Amending the Fire Board By-Laws per the Cochise County Attorney

Michelle Bell said she made some changes that she would like to discuss. Lauri Owen asked for changes to be sent to her.

Michelle Bell said on page 7 of 27, under Board Chairperson it states, “Ensures the Fire Board works effectively and ethically with the Fire Chief and staff.” the “and staff” should be removed because the chain of command should be followed when the Board requests something. Lauri Owen said she thinks that is a great idea.

Michelle Bell said on page 10 of 27 (starting on page 9) it states, “The Fire Board’s challenge is to be reasonably certain that nothing goes awry and at the same time, to grant as much unimpeded latitude as possible to staff members with the skills and talents to get the work done. Staff members need freedom from the Fire Board’s friendly intrusions to do their work efficiently.” and should also state, “as such all requests from Board members will be directed through the fire chief.” Lauri Owen said that is a great idea. Albert Suhajda said that is a good idea but what happens when the chief is unavailable. Michelle Bell said requests would go to whoever is left in charge.

Michelle Bell said on page 11 of 27, under Agendas, it states, “Directors who wish to have an item included on an agenda shall submit the item to”, should say, “the fire chief”. Lauri Owen said that is a great idea and well within the law.

Michelle Bell said on page 20 of 27 it states, “Term limits for the Officers of the Board may be limited to two consecutive terms unless otherwise approved by a quorum of the Board.” but she would like to add, “but not to exceed three consecutive terms.” Lauri Owen said it is the Boards call. Pamela Cohen said yeah.

Paula Suhajda asked how long a term is. Michelle Bell said one year.

Albert Suhajda said it does put new ideas in place.

Pamela Cohen said she will read through it (the Fire Board Bylaws).

Lauri Owen said if anyone has questions while reading through it they can contact her.

MOTION: Move to table approving the fire board handbook to the next meeting
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Pamela Cohen

New Business:

1. Saunders & Company LTD 2015/2016 Fiscal Year Audit Tele-conference Presentation to the Fire Board

(Postponed for late arrival of Cathy Dyer) During the conference call James Saunders said an audit consists of looking at financial statements and the operations of the district and issuing a report on the findings. Each Board member has a copy of the auditor’s report. They found the information on our financial reports to be accurate and correct as presented and our policies and procedures adequate for our size and followed as written. Non-compliance issues found are compliance of public information by not posting our proposed and approved 2015/2016 budgets on the website. Also, the District failed to hold a public hearing for the 2016/2017 budget before adopting it. One other issue was the internal control finding by failing to maintain adequate control over credit card statements; over 76 credit card transactions only 61 were documented by original receipt, a 20% error rate. We are spending within our budget and we are in compliance with budgetary statutes.

Michelle Bell asked if the three discrepancies have been fixed or still require attention. James Saunders replied we cannot hold a public hearing or resurrect credit card expenses for last year but we should communicate better and be aware to receipt expenses as they occur. They are minor issues that needed to be brought to the Board’s attention and corrected going forward.

Albert Suhajda said there was a District response to the discrepancies so a lot of it should have been taken care of.

Cathy Dyer said after the audit was completed there was counseling with Chief Bidon and herself regarding the credit card receipts. There is a policy in place.

Michelle Bell asked if the budget posting fell off during the transfer of websites. Diana Jones replied, no, any budget she receives she posts.

Cathy Dyer said she doesn’t know how the public hearing got missed, we do one every year.

2. Review, Amendment and Possible Action of Public Session Minutes for March

MOTION: Move to approve the Public Session Minutes as presented
RESULT: Minutes approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Pamela Cohen

3. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of Swearing in New Board Member Pamela Cohen to the Whetstone Fire District Fire Board

Pamela Cohen was sworn in to the Whetstone Fire District Fire Board at 6:11 by Board Clerk Albert Suhajda.

4. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of the Approval for the Posting of the 2017/2018 Fiscal Year Budget

(Postponed for the late arrival of Chief Bidon) Chief Bidon stated he needs the Board to approve the budget for posting in the newspaper; once it’s posted we can make changes to it we just can’t go up. Chief Bidon said he has three different tax rates to show the Board. Our District’s value went down. At 2.95 the real estate tax that we’ll get is $624,948 ($630,601 is what we got last year) at 100% pay. The CFDA allows the Fire District to receive 20% of what we levy – $105,100. At 3.10 the District would generate $656.725. We also have the EMS revenue; we don’t get 100% of that either but we leave the revenue high in the event that if we got more revenue than we budgeted they (the County Treasurer’s Office) would readjust our tax rate because we did not budget for those monies. It also leaves room for payment on any foreclosed property that sells and the back taxes are paid.

Keith Guin said the budget sets the tax rate; the Board doesn’t set the tax rate. Chief Bidon said if he budgets $600,000 for property taxes and collects $700,000 they’re going to readjust the tax rate.

Michelle Bell asked for it to be broken down for an average house at $150,000. What would be the difference between what they pay now at 2.95 versus 3.10 and 3.25? Michelle Bell stated her concern is by not raising the tax rate it is hard to get good employees to come work for the District because we can’t pay them competitively.

Albert Suhajda asked if we have a high turnover rate. Chief Bidon said yes, the reason they leave is to other departments that pay more. For the last nine years we have been a training facility. We are close to what Palominas pays but cannot compete with Fry and Sierra Vista.

Michelle Bell asked what we are paying as a District to continuously pay for training. Chief Bidon said it’s costing us about $10,000 a year to train two paramedics at the college.

Chief Bidon said at 2.95 a $150,000 home owner pays $442.25; at 3.10 they’ll pay $460.50 and at 3.25 they’ll pay $487.50.

Albert Suhajda confirmed that we pay for employees to go to college. Chief Bidon said we pay for the class and the books. We send them to Pima Community College because it takes 18 months and one year of prerequisites at Cochise College and only 10 months to get a paramedic from Pima Community College; and it’s cheaper. Albert Suhajda asked if we have an employment contract. Chief Bidon said we have a five year contact where the employee has to pay back 100% if they leave within the first year, 75% the second year, etc. We usually do the Fire I & II training in house but this hiring we required Fire I & II certifications because it’s cheaper.

Michelle Bell said at 3.10 it’s going to be roughly $20 or $1.67 a month more based on a $150.000 assessed value. For 3.25 it’s roughly $45 a year more, $3.75 a month. Michelle Bell said she lived in a volunteer fire department area that cost her $800 a year for a private company.

Chief Bidon stated the Board can do work sessions to go over this but he needs permission to post it. Michelle Bell said she would pick posting it at 3.25 and go over it in work sessions. Albert Suhajda agrees. Lauri Owen said we have to post and have a public hearing before adopting the budget.

Keith Guin said he was with the school board when they went through a mess with their taxes, they stuck with the numbers in what they needed and had to raise the taxes based on just the numbers. Be careful when looking at trying to improve salaries and things like that and keep your notes ready to answer questions. Chief Bidon said he would like to consider hiring six more part-timers to staff a station in PBW. Keith Guin said the good thing about both of the PBW stations is they have water.

Pamela Cohen said there isn’t much difference between the property tax percentage now and the increase.

Albert Suhajda said if we go ahead with the 3.25 during a work session we can always go down. Pamela Cohen agrees we can always lower it.

MOTION: Move to posting at 3.25 for the 2017/2018 fiscal year budget
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Pamela Cohen

5. Review, Discussion and Possible Action Regarding a Letter if Interest Submitted to the Fire Board By Wanda Pike to Fill the Current Board Member Vacancy

Albert Suhajda read the letter from Wanda Pike, dated April 5, 2017, to the assembly. Wanda Pike was not present at the meeting. Michelle Bell said we have enough time to interview her at the next board meeting rather than having a special meeting; that way the public will get to hear everything.

MOTION: Move to interview Wanda Pike at the next regular scheduled meeting
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Pamela Cohen

6. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of the Financial Reports

Cathy Dyer said on the monthly activity report from the Cochise County Treasure’s we closed out the month of March with $24,957.45 in the operations account. We collected $28,711.09 in real estate tax revenue, $761.79 in personal tax, and the paid warrants that the District put out was $51,062.48. The treasurer’s receipts of $12,313.16 are the revenues that we sent to the County that were deposited to our account. Another report is the reconciliation of our QuickBooks account to the Cochise County Treasurer’s account which shows it balancing out at their total balance. On page two of the reconciliation detail is all the outstanding warrants that haven’t cleared. Albert Suhajda said we still have uncleared warrants from 2009! Cathy Dyer said those were cleared out through general entry through our auditors and when they come back they have to redo it this year because we had issues with QuickBooks and our IT had issues with QuickBooks and some of the things that were done are back. We have the balance sheet showing our assets and liabilities matching out. The deposit detail report is the electronic funds deposits that we get in the County, the ambulance revenue, real estate tax, and any other odd monies coming in like the weather station in the PBW area we collect revenue from. Our budget which is actual, that report shows the actual dollar amount that we have spent, the budget line is what we budgeted for, and there is the over budget; the negatives are actually credits.

Albert Suhajda asked if we are cash basis. Cathy Dyer said we do the cash.

MOTION: Move to accept the financial reports as presented
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Pamela Cohen

Chief’s Report-
Information regarding the following topic(s) presented by the fire chief:

We have four people on the Sawmill fire doing structural protection in the Sonoita area.

We had a fire yesterday in Huachuca City, three houses and one fatality. It is under investigation by CCSO.

We had a major repair on the ladder truck for a hydraulics that cost us $4600 to repair and we bought tires for the ambulance.

We just hired two full-timers and filled the part-time ranks. We are still down one paramedic so we are sending two to paramedic school.

Board Members’ Comments:

No Board member comments.

Future Agenda Items:

Michelle Bell said we need to set up a working meeting. Chief Bidon asked if Thursday at 5:30 works for everyone. All Board members said the 27th works. Michelle Bell asked Cathy Dyer if she can post it and she said yes.

Michelle Bell said she made changes to the handbook she would like corrected and sent to Lauri Owen. She would like it to be presented to the next Board meeting for discussion and possible action. Review, discuss and possible action regarding the letter submitted by Wanda Pike.

Lauri Owen said she would be happy to come to all the meetings she just needs to know. Michelle Bell said she always wants her to be here. Albert Suhajda said she is always welcome because sometimes she can catch us doing something we are not supposed to.

Chief Bidon said once we fill the open Board position we should come in 40 minutes before a board meeting and have an open meeting law session with Lauri Owen.


MOTION: Move to the meeting at 7:24 pm
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Pamela Cohen

Michelle Bell, Chairperson
Diana Jones, Billing Administrator

Whetstone Arizona
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