WEST FARGO - To begin its transition from an all-volunteer fire department to one with full-time firefighters plus volunteers, the West Fargo Fire Department seeks more than twice as much taxpayer money next year.
Fire Chief Dan Fuller presented his 2018 budget on Monday, July 17, to elected city leaders. It includes a request for about $1.59 million from taxpayers, double the amount the city has contributed to the department in the past.
Fuller plans to transition to a 58-member combination department, with 14 full-time personnel and 44 volunteer firefighters by the start of 2018. The department now has four full-time staff members, including Fuller, but responds with volunteers to calls in the city of nearly 34,000 and some surrounding rural areas.
The department now spends about $303,000 annually on firefighter salaries, which will increase to about $832,000 to hire additional firefighters.
In 2017, taxpayers contributed about $750,000 to the department's roughly $1 million total budget.
Fuller said the cost of the new model will be about $45.48 per resident, which is still half the cost to residents than in Fargo and Moorhead, where full-time departments cost about $99 per resident.
City Administrator Tina Fisk said the increase in cost to the city may result in up to a 5-mill increase, which means property taxes on a $100,000 home would increase about $24.
"We are trying to get that down, though," she said.
Mayor Rich Mattern said the new fire plan does put a little strain on the budget, but the general public supports hiring a full-time fire department.
"I think people understand this is something we needed to do, but it will cause a little strain," Mattern said.
Although staff costs will go up, Fuller said he was able to decrease his operations budget by more than 3 percent.
Adding paid staff means one incident commander and four firefighters who are also EMTs will work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. They would be stationed at the Southside Fire Station, which is just off Sheyenne Street north of 32nd Avenue West.
The full-time crew will allow the department to respond to medical and fire calls throughout the day. The volunteer firefighters will then be on an on-call schedule and will be called in as needed. They will also primarily man the department nights and weekends.
The department now has 46 volunteers. With the new organization, there will still be at least 44 volunteers, with 21 volunteers assigned to each fire station, one north of Interstate 94 and one south of Interstate 94.
Fuller said the combination department will help ease the burden on the volunteers who have been busy this year. The department responded to seven fire calls July 4 and 5, and there have been nearly a dozen fires over the past two months.
"[The new structure] allows them to put some time in while still balancing family and work," Fuller said of the volunteers.
The city will finalize its 2018 budget later this year.