Will Cambria continue to have a fourth firefighter on its engines? That question may not be answered for some time, as Cambria’s leaders grapple with the question of whether to put funding for three positions on the ballot.
Those positions were funded for two years under a federal SAFER grant, which runs out in March and isn’t being renewed. The Cambria Community Services District has already agreed to fund them through the end of the fiscal year, June 30, but what happens after that is up in the air.
The board voted 5-0 to hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, at the Veterans Memorial Building. Directors will take public comment on firefighter staffing and vote on whether to approve a ballot measure.
Any measure that appears on the ballot would need to pass with a two-thirds majority. District Counsel Tim Carmel said it would cost $10,000 to $20,000 to put the measure to a vote in June; if approved, it would result in a $50 levy being imposed on all 6,000 parcels in the district.
In order to qualify for the June ballot, however, the district would have to file paperwork with the county by Feb. 21, Carmel said.
The decision to call that meeting followed a presentation by Fire Chief William Hollingsworth, a strong proponent of funding the positions.
The funding would enable the Fire Department to operate using four-person engine crews, rather than the three-person crews it was using before the SAFER grant took effect.
Hollingsworth said the difference gives firefighters a 25 percent faster overall scene time, also allowing crews to get water on a fire 6 percent faster and conduct primary search and rescue 6 percent faster.
“I think that’s pretty astounding,” he said. “The differences there are pretty amazing.”
Perhaps most importantly, he said, a four-person crew allows firefighters to enter a burning structure under federal rules that require at least two crew members to remain outside and two to enter. The so-called “two in, two out” rule means the district would be constrained during structure fires if its engines operated using three-person crews, Hollingsworth said.
But board President Amanda Rice said she was skeptical of the need to fund the three firefighter positions.
“If they want to pay for an extra firefighter on the engine, that is up to this community,” she said. “I remain unconvinced that the additional person … is not overkill for a community of this size.”
Rice said the district had responded to 72 fire calls since 2012, and Hollingsworth said about half of those calls were for structure fires. By contrast, Rice said, the vast majority of the responses (572 over the same period) have been for medical aid.
Vice President Jim Bahringer said he was “conflicted” about the funding idea and suggested forming an ad hoc committee of board and community members to study the issue further.
Such a move, however, would have delayed any potential ballot measure until November. The district would have either needed to continue funding the three positions through the start of 2019, or let funding lapse and hire new firefighters if the ballot measure passed.
A motion to continue funding through the end of the calendar year died on a 3-2 vote just before the board opted to call the special meeting.
The board also approved a 4 percent water and sewer rate increase, which will take effect March 1.
“I don’t want the board to think that this 4 percent will address our aging infrastructure,” General Manager Jerry Gruber said. “Will it help? Absolutely.”
The increase will add an estimated $4 to $5 every two months to the water bill and $1.37 to $1.40 to the sewer bill.
The board also elected officers for the 2018 calendar year, choosing Rice to continue as president on a 3-2 vote, with Aaron Wharton and Bahringer opposed.
Bahringer was elected Vice President, replacing Harry Farmer, who had served for the past two meetings of 2017 after replacing the departed Greg Sanders.
The CCSD board will meet at 3 p.m. Feb. 5 to receive public feedback and consider a potential ballot measure to fund three firefighters for the Cambria Fire Department. The meeting will be at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.