Clancy residents may soon pay about 50 percent more for fire protection under a proposed rate increase from the Clancy Volunteer Fire Department. 

Chief Tracy Leibbrandt made the case for higher rates at a public meeting on July 7—increasing annual fees from $98 to $145 a year to cover the cost of maintaining and modernizing the department. The last fee increase was in 2015, when it rose from $50 a year to the current $95 rate. He said that increasing revenue to the department would allow it to more consistently maintain and update equipment.

"In the last year, we’ve updated our self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) ... [because] our old ones were several years out of date and basically unreliable," Leibbrandt said at the meeting. "In history, when we have responded to automobile fires in the rural area of our district, we would take brush trucks and none of our brush trucks had SCBAs on them. So we increased our number of SCBAs to put on those brush trucks when we respond to those fires so our members have full protection."

Leibbrandt also cited the growing population of Clancy and the construction of newer and larger homes as another reason for the SCBA purchase.

"Fires that occur in houses nowadays burn faster, hotter, and they emit substantially more toxins than they have previously. So having those new SCBAs was critical to our firefighters and their health."

The department had to borrow money from the state of Montana to help fund the additional SCBAs, which cost about $165,000 total. 

Other equipment is also aging or in short supply. 

"Our oldest structure [fire] truck has a 1970s-vintage chassis. We aren’t sure how old the pump that’s in it is. The pump in that truck has gotten to the point where it doesn’t supply sufficient water flow," Leibbrandt said, adding that the truck had to be taken out of commission.

He said that the CVFD is operating with just a single primary structure fire truck to deal with structure fires for the entire area, meaning that the Montana City Volunteer Fire Department will also respond to Clancy incidents and arrive with two engines.

This interdepartmental cooperation allows for departments across the state, and further afield, to provide assistance and equipment when necessary. For example, a department in Brush Prairie, Washington, donated a fill station to refill Clancy's SCBAs with pressurized air. 

"The fact that [the fill station] was donated was a huge relief to us," said Leibbrandt, "and the finances it saved us was immense."

Total operating expenses for 2020 were $84,701 while the revenue was $89,560. "So at the end of the year that left us with $4,859 ... that margin doesn’t allow for saving for future upgrades and improvements and replacement of equipment."

With the area's population growing, increased revenue could fund the department at up to $138,040 next year without a fee increase. 

The department's operating costs are projected to increase to $105,000 or more, according to Leibbrandt, who noted that the figure did not include contracted services like grant writing or paying off existing debt, like the state loan. This means it would take $135,000 to fully fund the fire department, according to estimates, with no funds to spare.

If fees are increased, the department could bring in about $152,000, allowing for a budget carryover of approximately $27,000.

"To fund the gear that we use every day that we replace most often, we could fund that with cash ... the increase is definitely going to take some stress out of that," Leibbrandt said of possible increased revenue and budget carryover.

Meeting attendees asked questions about large items on the budget, including $255,000 for truck maintenance and repair, which Leibbrandt clarified was an estimate for a five-year period. Also listed was a line item for SCBA replacements in 10 years.

"All firefighting equipment has a recommended lifespan. We typically push everything well beyond what the government says its usable service is. When we get into a situation like we were with our [SCBAs], it just isn’t safe anymore. This will certainly position us where, over the 10 years, we can save and put [money] toward all of the items," he said.

Members of public at the meeting supported the proposal to increase fees.

One resident said she "couldn’t understand why you would not be in support [of the increase]. The work you do is phenomenal. I live on Lump Gulch, and the fire on Lump Gulch, you guys were on it like—I have a scanner too, and I listened to you guys—and you were on these things like the snap of a finger. It was amazing."

Jefferson County Commissioner Cory Kirsch attended the meeting and encouraged those present to "go home and tell your neighbors" about the possible increase.

"Probably not everyone is going to figure it out until after it is raised," he explained. "All the commission has to do is send out a notice of intent to raise the fees for a couple of weeks, then put it on our agenda and decide after that. It isn’t a whole huge process through the county government ... Clancy could have easily just gone to raise rates and nobody would have known until they got their tax bill." Kirsch commended the department for its outreach to keep the community informed and involved in the proposal to increase fees.

Comments on the proposed fee increase can be submitted to ClancyFSAFee@gmail.com.

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