Cole Creek Road fire

Crews with the Natrona County Fire District work to extinguish a fire near Cole Creek Road east of Casper in 2011.

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The Natrona County Fire Protection District faces pay cuts, potential layoffs and the possible closure of one of its stations due to a decrease in property tax revenue across the county.

Chief Bob Fawcett said that the district’s revenue for the upcoming fiscal year — which begins July 1 — is expected to be $1 million less than the $2.7 million it received the previous year. The 37 percent decline in revenue from the mill levy on county property taxes that accounts for the majority of the district’s funding is yet another result of the state’s economic downturn, he said.

“We’ve never had this kind of decrease,” he said. “It was a big hit.”

To make ends meet, Fawcett reduced the training budget to “basically nothing” and cut all overtime pay. He also expects to implement a pay cut across the board but hasn’t yet decided how big those cuts will be.

An administrative assistant and a firefighter resigned earlier this week in part because of the impending cuts, he said. Their positions will not be filled in the immediate future.

The district currently employs 20 firefighters, a fire inspector, a fire marshal and the chief. However, Fawcett could be forced to lay off between two and five firefighters if other solutions aren’t found.

If the district loses five firefighter positions it would have to close its station in Evansville, Fawcett said. Without the station, response times would likely increase.

The layoffs would also make it difficult for the agency to respond to multiple, simultaneous incidents. It would force other areas’ fire personnel to carry some of that burden, Fawcett said.

“It will certainly create a strain,” he said.

Fawcett knew there would be cuts when he took the chief’s position in March but didn’t anticipate the shortfall to be so severe. He learned of the $1 million decline on June 19 when he returned from vacation.

The staff has been nervous about their future since then, he said. Fawcett hasn’t slept well in a few weeks.

“It hits home,” he said. “It’s an adjustment for everyone.”

But the firefighters have continued to work as hard as usual despite the uncertainty, he said.

“Even though we might have the potential for a decline in services we will try to maintain as best we can,” Fawcett said.

The fire district makes some money outside of the property tax levy but relies on the taxes for a majority of their revenue. Fawcett said he plans to look for alternate resources but that it will be challenging as the downturn has affected funding sources across the state.

Prior to fiscal year 2016, the district had enjoyed a slight, but steady increase in revenue each year. However, Fawcett expects that money will be tight for at least a year if not more.

“It’s going to be a long haul,” he said.

This story originally ran in the Casper Star-Tribune and on trib.com.

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