EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Members of the Black Forest Fire Board held a meeting Thursday night to discuss the board's budget.
The meeting follows Wednesday's announcement at the board's monthly meeting that it would stop staffing its second fire station and eliminate one part-time firefighter position.
The board collected $185,000 from more than 10 sections of the budget to cover its legal fees. The legal fees include $125,000 in bills to a public relations firm and independent investigator. The investigator looked into accusations concerning Fire Chief Bob Harvey's decisions during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire from El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa to KRDO NewsChannel 13.
Residents requested the fire board hold town hall meetings to discuss matters pertaining to the board's spending with the community. Thursday's meeting was the first of five. However, only two people attended the meeting.
"I'm disappointed, I thought that it would be much bigger," said meeting attendee and former fire board chair Peter Burleson. "If they are concerned about what's going on here, then they need to learn more about what's really going on here."
"I thought it was really informative. I wish more of the public had shown up for it. What I really wish was the board had communicated like this for months instead of in the last two weeks of an election. It was very transparent, very informative, very cordial. If they had been doing that all along, probably wouldn't be having such a contentious election right now," said meeting attendee and fire board candidate PJ Langmaid.
Chairman Ed Bracken and Treasurer Walt Seelye hosted Thursday's meeting. They explained the fire board's budget.
The Black Forest Fire Board is in charge of a $3 million budget. Within that budget, it can allocate $2.2 million for different established line items. It cannot tap into its $800,000 reserve fund to cover the costs of the investigation because its needs that money to cover costs at the beginning of 2015. Seeyle explained while the fiscal year starts in January, it does not receive the money generated from taxes until April. It needs the money in the reserve fund to pay for bills during the first months of 2015.
Seelye said at Wednesday's meeting one part-time firefighter position would be eliminated. However, spokesperson Kathy Russell said in an email after the meeting the point needs to be clarified and said, "temporary adjustment to the 2014 budget has reduced those firefighters' opportunities for extra income, but this has not caused any individual firefighter to become unemployed."
Langmaid said he still isn't pleased by the decision to cut staffing.
"There is an obligation to staff the fire station. The taxpayers, that's why they voted the mill levy the way they did. That's why they approved the fire station because they wanted to have response out of that fire station and now they don't," said Langmaid.
Bracken and Seelye said that the board intends to re-staff Station 2 as soon as money becomes available at the start of the 2015 fiscal year.