March Board Meeting Minutes

MINUTES OF THE WHETSTONE FIRE DISTRICT
BOARD MEETING, March 28th, 2017

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

Acting Chairwoman, Michelle Bell, called the meeting to order at 6:02 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, Board Member
Bobby Chapman, Board Member
Albert Suhajda, Board Member

Staff Present:

Pete Bidon, Fire Chief
Cathy Dyer, Office Manager
Lauri J. Owen, M.A., J.D., Esq.

Absent:

None

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. None

New Business:

2. Review, Amendment and Possible Action of Public Session Minutes for March (February) 2017

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

3. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of the Resignation of Chairman Evans

Michelle Bell stated the board has received a written resignation from Richard Evans dated March 13, 2017.

MOTION: Move to accept the resignation from Rick Evans effective March 13, 2017
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Bobby Chapman

4. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of Ratification of the March 2nd 2017 Meeting

Michelle Bell asked Lauri Owen to discuss the legalities behind the ratification of the March 2 board meeting. Chief Bidon explained that we have a five member board and proceeded with the meeting only having two board members because there were two vacancies and the third board member was not present. Lauri Owen said she verified that we do not need to do ratification; definitely, if we only have three active members two makes a quorum.

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

Chief Bidon asked to have the item removed from the agenda and placed on next month’s agenda in order for the board to review the changes and make changes before adopting and doing a bunch of amendments. Lauri Owen asked the board to send any changes to her for review because the changes she made were to have the bylaws conform to statute. Chief Bidon said he will send any changes the board makes to Lauri Owen.

Michelle Bell asked Lauri Owen about the wording on page 11 where it states, “Directors who wish to have an item included on an agenda shall submit the item to the Board clerk no fewer than 72 hours…” can we change that to, “…they submit it directly to Chief Bidon”? Bobby Chapman said he likes that. Lauri Owen said she meant that as the fire clerk not the clerk of the board.

Michelle Bell asked if it is appropriate to add when a board member wants something in the agenda all requests get funneled through the fire chief. Chief Bidon works for us and the staff work for Chief Bidon. Previously staff was getting caught up in the drama. Bobby Chapman agreed that any requests from the board go to the chief, not the staff. Chief Bidon said he prefers it that way so he knows what is going on.

Lauri Owen said if anyone has any questions please contact her but not all together.

MOTION: Move to table amending the Fire Board Bylaws until next meeting
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Bobby Chapman
SECONDED: Albert Suhajda

6. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of the Memorandum of Understanding Between Both the Whetstone Fire District and the Palominas Fire District Regarding the Per Diem Firefighter Program Agreement

Michelle Bell said items six and seven are tied together.

Chief Bidon said we are small fire districts and sometimes fall short on employee coverage. What we are trying to do is offer the opportunity for any off-duty employee to cover an open shift for any of the three departments. The three of us have agreed to the pay ($11.00 an hour for an EMT firefighter and $13.00 an hour for a paramedic firefighter); they will be paid by that agency, there will be no benefits tied to it. This would ensure coverage 24/7/365. Palominas and Fry Fire Districts already have a memorandum of understanding between them. Chief Bidon said we can pull out at any time we want.

Lauri Owen said as long as they are not paid less than minimum wage it is okay.

Michelle Bell asked if our insurance covers other department’s employees in the event of an accident. Chief Bidon said yes, our insurance is a blanket umbrella policy that protects the district.

Lauri Owen said lots of other fire agencies are doing this.

Lauri Owen recommends that the board Chair signs it and not the fire chief.

Lauri Owen asked if any of the three districts have a certificate of necessity (CON). Chief Bidon replied that we do and Fry does. Lauri Owen asked if we are concerned that having Palominas come will violate the certificate of necessity. Chief Bidon said when Palominas comes here they are not bringing an ambulance they are sending a body; they are not doing transports out of the Whetstone Fire District. Chief Bidon said the Fry Fire District has the CON for the Palominas Fire District and even though Palominas has an ambulance or two they cannot transport out of their own district because they do not hold a CON as covered by Arizona Revised Statute Title 38.

Lauri Owen encourages us to run these by ADHS and get their approval.

MOTION: Move to accept the Memorandum of Understanding between the Whetstone Fire District and the Palominas Fire District
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Bobby Chapman

7. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of the Memorandum of Understanding Between Both the Whetstone Fire District and the Fry Fire District Regarding the Per Diem Firefighter Program Agreement

Albert Suhjada said he would like the memorandum modified to show a signature line for the board Chair.

MOTION: Move to accept the Memorandum of Understanding between the Whetstone Fire District and the Fry Fire District with modification to add a signature line for the board Chair
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Bobby Chapman
SECONDED: Albert Suhajda

8. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of Appointing New Board Chairman

Chief Bidon explained, since the board accepted the resignation letters from the Chairman and the Clerk the board has to nominate one of the three current members to be the Chair and on the next item one of the three a Clerk, seconded and voted on.

Bobby Chapman said he would like to nominate Michelle Bell as our new board Chairman.

MOTION: Move to appoint new board Chairperson
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Bobby Chapman
SECONDED: Albert Suhajda

9. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of Appointing New Board Clerk

Bobby Chapman nominated Albert Suhajda as new board Clerk. Albert Suhajda asked what the duties of the Clerk are. Chief Bidon stated the Clerk steps up in the absence of the Chair to run the meetings and sign anything.

MOTION: Move to appoint new board Clerk
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Bobby Chapman
SECONDED: Michelle Bell

10. Review, Discussion and Possible Action of Filling Board Member Vacancies
Letter of interest for Pamela Cohen provided to the Fire Board

Michelle Bell read the letter from Pamela Cohen and stated since she is present we can interview her at tonight’s meeting.

Pamela Cohen said she is a poll worker. When she was 16-years-old she started typesetting and graphic design, at 21 she became a bartender, at 24 she decided to open her own bar and bought a building. She sold the building in 2008 and bought her house. She purchased the Fireside. She does her own accounting and payroll and learned everything by doing it.

Bobby Chapman asked what she can bring to the District. Pamela Cohen said she does her own accounting and payroll and is good with numbers and dealing with people.

Michelle Bell stated she likes that Pamela Cohen owns a business in Whetstone, her accounting and legality background, and her civic duty working the polls.

Chief Bidon said the Fire District is off a secondary assessed property tax evaluation. Part of the board’s duty is to set the tax rate every budget season by adopting the budget; as a business owner and home owner in the District you (Pamela Cohen) are going to be paying property tax for both and the property tax for your business is a higher rate. Is there going to be any level of conflict if we have to raise the tax rate; will you be open-minded for what is best for the community? Pamela Cohen said she is all about fairness.

Chief Bidon also asked how she feels about consolidation/merger. Pamela Cohen said she has no idea.

Debbee Watkins asked why Pamela Cohen wants to be on the board. Pamela Cohen stated she was encouraged a lot by two people in the classroom.

Albert Suhajda asked how Pamela Cohen will handle time commitment while owning a business and being on the board. Pamela Cohen said no problem; she is at least 8-9 months out from breaking ground.

MOTION: Move to appoint Pamela Cohen to the Board
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Bobby Chapman
SECONDED: Albert Suhajda

Chief Bidon said Pamela Cohen will be sworn in at the next board meeting and cannot officially make any votes tonight.

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

Cathy Dyer stated the Cochise County Treasurer report monthly activity closed out the month of February with the operations account balance of $31,841.71, the pension account closed out at $41,166.08 and the reserve account closed out at $107,424.82. The PBW revenue has merged into Whetstone Fire. Cathy Dyer said she expects us to start seeing bigger chunks of real estate revenue coming in.

Albert Suhajda said his property tax has gone up. Chief Bidon stated some have, including his.

MOTION: Move to approve the financial reports as presented
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Albert Suhajda
SECONDED: Bobby Chapman

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

Chief Bidon said the trend in the United States is to consolidate services. The biggest consolidation push in Arizona we are part of when we consolidated with PBW Fire District. A lot of small fire districts in Arizona are struggling because property values have gone down and the decline in tax revenues and tax levies. In Cochise County we have 19 fire districts; we were at 22, a couple folded and we took PBW away. The memorandum of understanding between districts is the precursor into a consolidation/merger of other fire districts in the same geographical area providing the same services and fighting for the same funds. Having a larger organization makes it easier to compete for grant funds.

Chief Bidon has been meeting with two local fire districts (Fry Fire District and Palominas Fire District) talking about what needs to be done to make a consolidation or merger work between the three fire districts. We want to keep the same level of service and protect the employees. We have contiguous borders with both Fry and Palominas Fire Districts using state land, BLM land or any federal land that is between us. Chief Bidon will bring more information to the board once he gets more.

Chief Bidon’s recommendation is to go to a seven member board using two current board members from each board with a vote for the seventh position. The process will take 18-24 months to complete. The new board would pick the fire chief.

Paula Suhajda asked if there would be only one fire chief for all three. Chief Bidon said it wouldn’t be three fire districts anymore; it would be considered one agency. Chief Bidon said he recommends changing the name to Cochise Fire and Rescue.

Albert Suhajda said normally consolidations are done with unincorporated areas. Chief Bidon said no, they are done with fire districts.

Lauri Owen said a lot of the smaller cities are looking at going to fire districts instead of fire departments. Chief Bidon said the City of Bisbee is considering going to a fire district.

Chief Bidon said there is a town that has toyed with the idea of annexing into the Whetstone Fire District. Arizona Revised Statute states that if we contract with a city we have to take the levy of the city and balance it out like we do our budget when we set our tax rate and add 10% to charge residents of the city, not residents of Whetstone. Lauri Owen said it would not increase the rate to Whetstone Fire District residents.

Michelle Bell said she would like to see what happens to the other fire chiefs and the pros and cons.

Albert Suhajda asked what the other districts rates are at. Chief Bidon said Fry’s is a 4 and Palominas is a 6/8 and we have the lowest tax rate by $0.02.

Diana Jones asked what would happen to the ambulance rate/charges. Lauri Owen said those are set by the state. Diana Jones said Fry’s rate is different than ours. Chief Bidon said whoever is the main organization is the way it would go. Lauri Owen said the board would decide it. Chief Bidon said ADHS would be involved when it gets to that point.

Diana Jones asked about the tax subsidy write off for the residents of Whetstone. Chief Bidon said that is something we would have to bring up with ADHS and see if everybody was willing to do it; if it’s a benefit to the community it should be moved forward.

Board Members’ Comments:

Michelle Bell said today if Chief Bidon’s birthday.

Bobby Chapman said that before we asked the public to raise their hand before they speak; he is totally against that because we are here to serve the public. Congratulations to our new board Chair, thank you to our attorney for being here, the public as well as the board is going to see a lot of positive changes with the new Chair and new board members.

Albert Suhajda welcomed our new board member and congratulated the new Chairperson.

Future Agenda Items:

Michelle Bell said review, discussion and possible action amending the fire board bylaws.

Bobby Chapman said to post the open board seat for 30 days.

Michelle Bell said she wants to thank Lauri Owen and hopes that the public will continue to come to meetings.

Chief Bidon said the swearing in of the new board member.

Adjournment:

MOTION: Move to the meeting at 7:10 pm
RESULT: Approved, all in favor none opposed
MOVED BY: Bobby Chapman
SECONDED: Albert Suhajda

Michelle Bell, Chairwoman
Diana Jones, Billing Administrator

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