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CPUD meeting talks assessment increases, PG&E’s loan program

The CPUD board of directors convened Sept. 17 inside the district’s conference room for what was a relatively shortened meeting despite several agenda items being covered, which included the approval of the Aug. 8 and Aug. 20 meeting minutes, entailing a brief exchange between board members.

Ambulance service rate increase

The meeting included discussion on considering a rate increase in ambulance billings, which the board noted hadn’t been increased since 2011.

Board chair Steve Trotter suggested that a study needed to be done comparing rates charged by the Chester Fire Department for ambulance services with other private and public agencies, as a way to align charges with current industry standards.

A report of the findings would be presented at next month’s board meeting in October, he said.

Financials

The board decided to table discussion on this month’s budget financials statement until the next board meeting, when the fiscal 2018-2019 financials report was completed, at which time the board could then carry out a thorough review.

Personnel Committee

Trotter presented an update on a meeting held by the Personnel Committee.

He said that there had been one previous letter of interest submitted to the board to fill a board vacancy.

“We discussed the possibility of not recommending anybody for the open seat on the board until the upcoming November 5 election,” Trotter suggested, further adding that the committee also discussed at the meeting finding a permanent Emergency Services Director/Fire Chief to replace interim Fire Chief Brian Layne.

Director Steve Voboril made a motion to table the board appointment until after the November election. The four board members present voted in favor.

Regarding replacing Layne as fire chief, Trotter said it was recommended at the time of the committee meeting that until the CFD’s budget deficit was in the black and the department could afford to pay for a full-time fire chief, Layne would remain in his position as interim fire chief while technically in “retirement” status; but he could only work a total of 960 hours per year based on rules established by CalPERS.

Layne expressed that he was agreeable to the committee’s recommendation.

“We also talked about the possibility of laying off some positions due to the budget, but nothing is concrete at this time,” Trotter said. “We just wanted to make the board aware that we had that discussion.”

Another topic he said that was raised during the Personnel Committee meeting was the need to develop a schedule and new policy on employee evaluations, and whether such evaluations would take place quarterly or annually.

Trotter continued, “We also considered forming an ad hoc committee for emergency services funding, and a standing committee for the development of new policies.”

In addition, he stated that the Personnel Committee covered ground on salary and benefits surveys for the fire department.

Finance Committee update

“We reviewed the district’s current investments and the CDs that are coming due in October,” Trotter noted, “and also the possibility of needing that money because we had to pay out so much money in salaries to our firefighters.”

Also discussed at the Finance Committee meeting was the “Other Post-Employee Benefits” program; benefits that local governments provide to their retired employees administered by CalPERS, which in the district’s case specifically means medical coverage after retirement.

Trotter said that Chester General Manager Frank Motzkus is waiting for a response from CalPERS on their OPED program, to be covered in more detail at a later date.

Also, he said that plans are underway to send out letters to retirees reminding them to sign up for Medicare at age 65.

Parcel tax

Trotter informed the directors that Chief Layne and Chadwick Walker, district firefighter and paramedic, met with County Supervisor Sherrie Thrall about instituting a parcel tax as soon as possible, to raise homeowner assessment fees to close the hole in the CFD budget deficit.

He remarked that the upcoming open house at the firehouse scheduled for Oct. 15 would be an opportunity to provide more public education on the need for increased tax assessments.

Also mentioned was the possibility of running ambulance billing through Seneca Healthcare District to increase the percentage of fees to the fire department from ambulance calls.

Fire Chief’s report

Acting Fire Chief Layne informed the board members that he has been in contact with Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s office regarding payments currently due to the CFD by the USFS/CalFire for services rendered from last year’s massive fire season. Layne said he asked that LaMalfa get involved to help the department get its federal reimbursements without further delay.

The Chester Fire Department is still owed nearly $2 million after a payment in September of $97,000 in reimbursements for district fire personnel, contract employees and ancillary expenses for its fire fighting efforts last year and in 2017.

The month of August saw zero dollars received from monies owed to the department for fire costs.

On a related topic, Layne said the department was abruptly notified that it was required to submit a report within two days citing any additional fire costs, or the USFS would automatically knock down reimbursements to 16 hours a day from 24 hours per day, a task that was successfully accomplished after requiring some overtime hours by Cheryl Johnson, clerk to the board.

He mentioned that he and Johnson were on a conference call together with Cal OES regarding timely reimbursements by the Forest Service, in the expectation that full compensation would be forthcoming.

General Manager’s report

The General Manager’s report, presented by Chief Layne while Chester General Manager Frank Motzkus was out on personal business, stated that Spatial Wave, a company that digitizes maps, and The Kahlen Group, an engineering firm, have submitted payment requests to the State Water Resources Control Board for a planning study grant to upgrade the district’s wastewater system.

The grant provides a maximum of $500,000 for the planning phase, and an award of up to $8 million in grant money for construction.

Resignation announced

District employee Matt Ackley has resigned his position with Chester PUD. His last day was Sept. 13. The district is currently looking to recruit a full-time meter reader and maintenance person to replace him.

PG&E loan program

Directors Steve Trotter and Royce Raker plan to schedule a time the week following the regular meeting to discuss PG&E’s loan program specifics, at which time they would report to the board on whether or not to accept the proposal.

It was during the August board meeting that Jay Langner, account executive for Eco Green Solutions in Laguna, presented an energy savings loan program in partnership with PG&E that would retrofit the current interior and exterior fluorescent lighting in the main facility with energy-efficient LEDs.

Health benefits

In his report, Motzkus stated he is in the process of gathering information on health benefits available through various insurance carriers, to be sure the district has the “right plan at the right price.”

Open enrollment in the CPUD’s current health plan continues until Oct. 4.

Fire Chief’s report

Layne said that water pump tests are complete for all Chester Fire Department equipment and no problems were discovered with one exception. He noted that a water tank had fractured on engine 7222 and will be out of service until repairs are made.

Grievance issues settled

Layne reported to the board that all grievances with the Local 39 Safety Union were settled or had been withdrawn the previous week regarding the recently negotiated contract.

Ambulance boundaries finalized

In April, Layne said he had a meeting to finalize with other represented parties, including Hamilton Branch, Peninsula Fire, Plumas County Sheriff’s Office (dispatch), Plumas Rural Healthcare District and CFD, to refine ambulance boundary lines that were not correct.

The only effect of the change to CFD ambulance service was that it wouldn’t go quite as far as the Almanor Dam, with the boundary for service ending instead at Rocky Point.

Fire crews

Layne told the board members that the fire department had sent out 22 contract employees and three full time staff and one volunteer to fight California wildfires, which included the large Walker Fire, Red Bank Fire, R-1 Ranch Fire and several others.

Many of the firefighters have begun to filter back to their respective fire stations, he said.

The 2019 wildfire season so far has seen over 5,136 fires recorded, according to CalFire and the U.S. Forest Service, totaling an estimated 151,681 acres of burned land and 39 structures destroyed as of Sept. 15. The Walker Fire alone has scorched over 54,000 acres.

Revenues received from rents and fees

The CPUD brought in $500 in rent from the property it owns at 198 Main St. in downtown Chester, another $1,050 from Waste Management solid waste franchise fees, $620 for the rental of the CPUD/CFD conference room, the sum of $26,945.13 in additional property taxes and $36.78 in miscellaneous payments.

Service calls and ambulance billings for August

A total of 60 calls in August was made to the CFD that included two calls for fire, 11 for EMS in Chester and 17 outside Chester, 21 inter-facility flight transfers to airports for emergency treatments, one traffic collision, three public assists, one false alarm and one hazardous situation requiring a hazmat response.

Chester Fire billed out $104,331.05 for ambulance services, and has received just $17,782.99 thus far for the month.

The next CPUD regular board meeting is scheduled at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15, in the CPUD/fire station’s conference room at 251 Chester Airport Road in Chester. The public is welcome to attend. For information, call 258-2171 or visit chesterpud.org.

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