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District 5 has first fire chief contract

TALENT — Jackson County Fire District No. 5 has a fire chief under contract for the first time in its history. The district’s board of directors Tuesday unanimously approved a contract with Darin Welburn, who has been interim chief since January and was formerly division chief.

Other major actions taken by the board Tuesday set salary ranges for the positions of deputy chief and business manager. Staff was also directed to prepare an alternative to a current practice that allows firefighters to collect a month’s extra pay for advance notice of retirement.

On Dec. 10, board members approved hiring Welburn, but the board and its legal counsel, Martial Henault, had to cover new ground because there was no prior contract to offer guidance.

“We’ve never had a chief under contract,” said Judy Baalman, chairwoman of the board. “Because of the learning process it just took us a long time. We are pleased to have Chief Welburn officially on board.”

Former Chief Dan Marshall, who retired in December after 30 years in the position, served under agreements with the board. Marshall used to say that he was always three votes away from leaving, recalled veteran board member Bill Robertson.

The holiday season slowed the negotiation process, then several members of the negotiation team became ill, further delaying progress, said Baalman.

Welburn will receive a base salary of $107,000 during the current calendar year, a probationary period. A performance review will be conducted in June, with a full evaluation in October. The salary will increase to $112,000 in 2016 and $118,000 in 2018. From 2019 forward, salary and benefits will be negotiated. Performance reviews will be held annually.

Marshall's last base salary was budgeted at $118,632. The new chief will receive longevity pay of 5.5 percent based on 27 years’ experience with the district. Most other benefits mirror those received by district personnel.

Welburn's contract excludes him from receiving a current benefit that allows firefighters to get one month’s extra pay if they give six months’ notice prior to retirement. The practice has been in place since 2009. The arrangement is not part of the agreement with the firefighters' bargaining unit. Typical payout for a retiring captain would be $6,676.

But the payout has been questioned by board members in recent months, and Tuesday they directed Welburn to explore a "work back" option under which firefighters would retire, then be hired back by the district. Savings would come because there would be no benefit payments. No other fire district or department in the area has a similar payout, Welburn said.

“I don’t believe in the public having to support golden parachutes,” said Baalman. “I can easily support work back. We are getting something for the money.”

A salary range of $49,000 to $53,000 was set for the business manager position. Lori Keim retired earlier this month after 18 years in the position, which is being filled on an interim basis by Doug and Melinda Spani.

The deputy chief position will have a salary range of $89,000 to $94,000, the board decided. The position replaces the division chief slot, and selection is made by the fire chief.

At the direction of the board, Welburn solicited internal candidates. Only one candidate, Capt. Vince Lockett, applied. Welburn has received letters expressing full confidence in Lockett from the firefighters' local bargaining unit and from the volunteer firefighter organization.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com

Darin Welburn