Steps were made at Tillamook Fire District’s July 8 board meeting. In regard to the ongoing volunteer stipend issue for the Volunteer Firefighter Association, volunteer Paul Edwards began by handing out a list of some requests that the association wanted the board to go over with them. The board went over the requests one at a time and discussed each.
The first request was to go back to when the stipend originally started and correct the stipend issue. There was some miscommunication about whether it started in 2014 or 2016, but Edwards showed documents to the board that indicated that it began on June 1, 2014. The official policy started in 2014, confirmed Edwards. Board Chairman Tim Hamburger stated that they already passed a motion at the last meeting to go back to the beginning of the policy, which they thought at the time was 2016, and felt that going back to 2014 was what they needed to do.
“I’m all for it,” said Vice-Chairman Brian Cameron. “I think all of us want to make amends for this and that would be the best way to do it.”
Cameron made a motion to go back to June 1, 2014 to extend the stipend payouts and the motion was passed.
The second request was to release the confidential report that spent over 20,000 tax payer dollars. Hamburger stated that the board needs to discuss this request because it was a confidential report.
“There were some questions regarding its release from the attorney,” said Hamburger. “Special District’s Attorney advised us not to release it.”
Hamburger believes that the board needs to hold an executive session to discuss this request more.
The third request was to hire a forensic auditor to make sure there was no fraudulent activity. Cameron expressed concern for what the auditor would cost. Hamburger believes it would be around $300 an hour. Hamburger said that this is another request that the board will have to discuss. Another volunteer suggested that they invite an auditor to come in so that they could get some questions answered. Hamburger stated that they hold an executive session to discuss the report and have an auditor come in.
The fourth request was a $2 increase in stipend pay. The volunteers haven’t had an increase in many years, said Edwards. They are being asked to do more and feel that they should be paid more. Hamburger added that people have brought up changing to w2s. He says that this increase is something that the board should discuss. Cameron suggests that they have some consultation so that they know what what will happen come tax season, so people don’t end up having to pay more than they are expecting. The bookkeeper is keeping an eye on the stipends and looking at trends and is ready to switch to w2s.
Edwards states that the stipend issue is not the volunteers’ fault. Hamburger states that the policy was going on for 5 years and that his biggest question was why the volunteers didn’t step forward to the board about the stipend issue.
“Was everyone really that afraid of him?” asked Hamburger, referring to the former chief.
“Fear of retaliation,” said Edwards.
Cameron mentions that the board was kept in the dark about what was going on with the stipends and fire chief at the time. Some of the volunteers came to individual board members but it wasn’t brought to the whole of the board until very recently. One of the problems with this is that the chief would be sitting with the board at the meetings, intimidating the volunteers.
Hamburger mentions that the next step for the board after fixing the stipends is to pick apart their policies. He thinks that there is a lot of different things that they need to look at individually.
The fifth request was to take care of the deleted comp and vacation hours. Edwards says that the volunteers have the paid staffs’ back and vice versa. The career staff made a request to go back to 2014 as well to check their pay. There was a motion to go back to five years to examine deleted comp hours.
The board decided to schedule a meeting between the board members to discuss some of the requests and to bring in an accountant or auditor for suggestions. This meeting between the board members is scheduled for July 22.