CHEYENNE State land managers plan a new approach to paying yearly firefighting costs: asking for more money in advance if drought years are anticipated.
In the past three years, fire costs have significantly exceeded appropriations. Consequently, the Office of State Lands and Investments has paid for each year's costs after the year ended, and after requesting additional funding from the Legislature.
State Lands Director Lynne Boomgaarden and State Forester Bill Crapser want to change the policy.
"Now that data is available to estimate costs during drought years, it makes much better fiscal sense to have money in hand before you need to spend it, rather than incur costs and then have to ask for the money," Boomgaarden said.
"The Legislature has historically been extremely generous with this office's firefighting needs, and I want to give them a firm plan for the funding they continue to provide."
For the past three years, the cost of fighting fires on state and private land has averaged $3.5 million a year. The Office of State Lands and Investments' share has been about $612,000 per year.
Boomgaarden and Crapser expect wildland firefighting in the 2003-04 biennium to cost about $1.2 million when final figures are tallied. They are requesting the same amount for the 2005-06 biennium, reasoning that the fire season is not expected to decrease significantly in the next two years.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal agrees with the approach and will recommend the Legislature approve Boomgaarden's firefighting budget request.
"When we have a decent idea of what firefighting is going to cost in the next year, I see no reason not to fund that anticipated need," he said.
Historically, the Forestry Division of the Lands Office absorbed firefighting cost increases for any given year. But with the ongoing drought and extensive overtime costs, that is no longer possible, officials said.
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