Temp to start fire plan

Commissioners cut the position last year to balance the budget

After three years of work and more than $300,000 spent to develop a fire plan, Moffat County is struggling to implement it.

During a special meeting Wednesday, the Moffat County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to hire a temporary employee to develop community-specific plans to manage fire in Moffat County.

During the past weeks, the commissioners have debated whether to hire a temporary employee or an independent contractor to begin work on the fire plan. Commissioners Darryl Steele and Les Hampton had said they favored hiring an independent contractor.

But during an executive session Wednesday, Kathleen Taylor, Moffat County attorney, told the commissioners she didn't think they legally could hire an independent contractor. She would not elaborate on her recommendation because it was made in executive session.

The position would be funded mostly by a Bureau of Land Management grant, as well as about $13,000 in county funds. The job would end when the grant money runs out in December. However, other grant applications are pending. If they were to come through, it's possible the position could continue through the end of this year, fire plan subcommittee members have said during meetings.

The commissioners decided to first offer the job to former Moffat County natural resources specialist Ann Franklin, whose job was cut in March to balance the county's 2004 budget. Franklin has since moved to Meeker.

About half of Franklin's job consisted of fire planning. Since her job ended, the county has struggled to find a way to continue work on the fire plan.

If Franklin does not accept the job, then it will be advertised in the hopes that the county finds someone qualified for the job, the commissioners decided.

Steele cast the dissenting vote.

"If we offer this as a temporary job and at this pay scale, I don't believe we can find someone with the expertise required to put these plans together within the requirements of the BLM grant. If Ann does not accept the position, I don't believe we will find a person with the qualifications for the money and time limit we have set," Steele said.

The job description would be drawn from the required goals of the BLM grant, said Lynette Running, Moffat County human resources director.

Those requirements include:

n Identifying communities at risk from wildfires.

n Conducting fire awareness and education programs among county residents.

n Working in collaboration with residents and managers of nearby public lands to develop wildfire mitigation plans.

Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director, said the county's goal is to complete wildfire mitigation plans with four communities by the end of the year. He said Baker's Peak, Wilderness Ranch, Knez Divide and Greystone have been identified in the fire plan as communities at risk from wildfire, but said the employee would only develop fire plans for those communities if the communities' residents desired it.

If a qualified temporary employee cannot be found, it is unclear whether the commissioners could put the job out for bidding among independent contractors. Running said she was looking into the legality of such a move.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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