KINGMAN – The Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District is getting closer to finding a permanent fire chief with interviews of three candidates scheduled for May 18.
The board may go into executive session for the interviews, unless the candidates agree to be interviewed at the public meeting.
The open position has caused dissension on the governing board, which voted 3-2 in March to rehire former Fire Chief Wayne Eder on an interim basis at an annual salary of $95,000.
That’s roughly $8,000 a month, which could have been better spent on an independent “headhunter” firm to find a new fire chief, board member Jim Bailey said.
“He’s going to be there for months before we get a new chief,” Bailey said.
Interim Fire Chief Tim King, who was appointed after Fire Chief Patrick Moore resigned in December, was doing an “excellent job” filling in until a permanent chief could be hired, Bailey added.
“They threw away a bunch of money and brought Wayne back,” he said.
Chairwoman Patti Lewis was one of Eder’s biggest supporters. She wants him considered as one of the final three candidates, even though he was not selected from five applicants.
Lewis donated money to build a fire station near her home at Juniper Estates that was closed with the district’s budget fell from $5 million to $2 million. She wants the fire station reopened, and Eder has indicated he would staff it with three firefighters.
At $60,000 to $70,000 for each firefighter, the expense to the district would be around $200,000 a year, Bailey noted.
The district increased its property tax levy from $2.88 to $3 for every $100,000 of home value, and will have to take it up another 12 cents just to stay even for the year, board member Mike Collins said.
“Revenue equals employees,” Collins said. “If we add any more employees, it throws the equation off.”
Bailey said the state has “handcuffed” fire districts in rural areas by sweeping property tax revenue and capping rates.
“We would have been over for the year if we didn’t pay the chief, which was completely unnecessary because Tim was doing an excellent job,” Bailey said. “There was no reason to bring (Eder) back. We didn’t need him.”
Lewis wants the board to interview all five of the fire chief applicants, but Bailey said he and board member Mike Collins were told to pick the best three candidates based on a rating system.
Eder didn’t make the cut, largely because he lost $1.5 million from the budget when he was fire chief from 2003-2008, and staffing was reduced from 47 employees to 23, Bailey said.
Attorney Bill Whittington made sure everything was “on the level” with point value system for rating the candidates, Bailey said.
While Eder scored extra points for having a doctorate’s degree, all of the candidates had bachelor’s degrees, and the extra points for the doctorate’s degree wasn’t enough to overcome the low grades for budget management, Bailey explained.
“Not a lot to discuss as of now,” Eder said in a response to a request for comments. “Guess we need to see what happens on the 18th.”