Jackson Hole Fire/EMS is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in budget cuts as the town of Jackson struggles to fund departments because of the pandemic-related economic downturn.
The fire department is jointly funded by the county and town and had already presented a slashed budget to elected officials earlier this month.
“Then the town said, ‘Here is what we can afford,’” Fire Chief Brady Hansen told the News&Guide. “So we were asked to go back and make further cuts.”
Hansen presented an even smaller fiscal year 2021 budget at a joint information meeting Tuesday morning.
“We have been working hard to be as lean as we possibly can,” he told officials.
Hansen had to start cutting programs, like car seat checks, school visits and paramedic school.
He let out a heavy sigh when asked which cuts will be most significant to the department.
“All departments are finding it challenging to downsize appropriately in people and programs to meet the limitations,” Hansen said. “We aren’t cutting any positions, but we have had to trim everywhere else we can.”
Nothing in his budget has been finalized.
But Hansen said he had planned to send three employees to paramedic school. They had obtained a grant to cover half the cost, but if the town and county can’t fund the other half they’ll lose the grant to attend training at all.
“I completely understand the town is in a tight spot,” he said. “They decide the level of service they can afford.”
Before the additional cuts Hansen had already eliminated an ambulance and trimmed other capital expenses, pushing some purchases to the future.
Fire/EMS is in the middle of rebuilding Fire Station No. 1. Elected officials have brought up potentially pausing the specific purpose excise tax-funded project until local government is more fiscally sound. But no decision on that has been made.
Hansen said it’s been challenging trying to maintain busy season staffing levels to cover coronavirus calls while cutting more and more from next year’s budget.
Jackson Hole Fire/EMS is handling a record number of calls for service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hansen said it’s the most 911 calls they’ve ever run.
He said that while deep cuts mean big adjustments in the department the goal is to not let the decreased funding impact emergency response.
“We want to provide the highest level of service possible but we can only do what we can do,” he said. “I am confident we will still get someone en route to every 911 call in a timely fashion.”