Six vying for three spots on Newcastle Fire Board
Six candidates are competing for three seats up for grabs this election on the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors.
The three fire board incumbents include Chairperson Yvonne Lewis, Vice Chairperson Robert Stearns, Jr., and board Member David Poore. The three newcomers are Jonita ‘Joni' Elder, Dave Ward and Jimmie Jordan, all Newcastle residents. Thy are featured in alphabetical order by last name.
Newcastle Fire Board meetings have been heavily attended and the board has met some scrutiny following the passage of Measure B in March, which is meant to build a new fire station in place of the 90-year-old Station 41 and fund firefighter pay and benefits. The tax package includes an annual $146.46 parcel tax based on the square footage of the property owner's structure. The tax can be increased up to 3 percent every year.
Jonita ‘Joni' Elder
As a retired tax auditor and administrator, Jonita ‘Joni' Elder, said she is ready to tackle even the toughest budgeting issues within the Newcastle Fire Protection District.
Elder is a property owner in Newcastle. She said in reviewing the fire protection needs of Newcastle and the status of surrounding fire departments, like Ophir, which is set to potentially close, she has seen the need to run for public office for the first time.
"Fire and safety protection is a serious issue and it has become even more serious now that I've seen other fire stations that are closing. We can no longer run the Newcastle Fire Board of Directors like a social club," Elder said.
Elder said she would like to put her years as a tax auditor and an administrator to use as a board member by reigning in what she calls "wasteful spending" and figuring out other ways to generate revenue other than increasing taxes.
"Their answer to every question just seems to be ‘give me more money,'" Elder said of the current board. "You know what? Times are tough and people can't afford to give out more money all of the time."
She also said she would like to decrease the response time for emergencies and hopes if she is elected, the public will trust her. The current board has come under fire after the word "condemned" was used to describe the Newcastle fire house when it has never been distinguished as such.
"I don't know that the current board could ever regain the trust because people don't like to have taxes snuck on them and that's exactly what happened," Elder said.
Elder hopes to be elected to the board with the other two challengers, Jimmie Jordan and Dave Ward. She also wants to work with board members Bill Calkins and Leonard Orsolini.
"I see us as a group being able to work with the board and maybe manage things so that maybe we don't need to raise taxes, maybe we need to redirect what we already have because I definitely do not want to see our fire department and fire district go bankrupt and it looks to me like we're well on that road," Elder said.
As a member of the community who has gotten the outside view, Jimmie Jordan wants more details and the chance to work on the board from within.
Jordan is a retired life insurance agent and has lived in Newcastle since 1979. He said he has coached soccer and baseball in the community and has been in charge of budgets for large companies when he worked in Sacramento in retail operations.
He said his experience in that area and with working with the public on insurance matters will be valuable to the board.
"During the last 11 or 12 years I was working with families on their budgeting issues and that gave me a better understanding of their needs and how families have to plan," Jordan said. "We can't always say ‘the answer is taking more money from the taxpayers.' We have to be responsible."
Aside from his experience working with budgets, Jordan said he also managed a trucking operation, which he said will give him insight on how to better run the fire department financially and technically.
"I understand the need for equipment, supplies and that you have to perform preventative maintenance and not continually defer something until you end up paying twice the price you originally would have for a breakdown," Jordan said.
Jordan said he is not sure what the correct course of action is regarding Newcastle's deteriorating fire department until he sees the issue from the perspective of a member of the fire board.
"It took me one meeting to realize that I could probably help make a difference. I feel the current fire board is ineffective and maybe over their head," Jordan said. "I really don't see a concern for the public from them."
As the current chairperson of the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors, Yvonne Lewis has repeated one phrase recently: "I have broad shoulders that can bear it."
Lewis has been on the board since April 2007 and has lived in Placer County for 45 years, 18 of which she has lived in Newcastle. She said she can remember her first visit to the Newcastle fire station in 1948 and even then the building had problems.
"It was a rainy night, the wind was blowing and you did not stand near the windows because you could feel the draft," Lewis said. "To blame this board for lack of repair on the building, I'll accept that, I've got broad shoulders, but before you do, stop and think of the boards before us."
Lewis has sat through multiple meetings recently where she has been criticized by the public for everything from the use of the word "condemned" to describe the fire house to the preventative maintenance of the building.
She points to the strategic action plan the board has developed over the years, the property the board has located for the new fire station, pay increases for firefighters and the Measure B parcel tax that was passed as accomplishments during her time on the board.
Lewis also has been a deputy city clerk in Trinidad, Ca., spent two years on the Placer County Grand Jury and said she has 50 years of office and accounting experience. She has recently had to go back to work as a part-time caretaker.
"I've always been a positive, energetic person and I pay attention to details. This district has many challenges, as most small districts do, but I have the passion and awareness that will keep this wonderful community safe," Lewis said.
Lewis said if reelected she would like to finalize the plans for a new fire house by ensuring that Measure B is not reformed and see more experienced firefighters be retained either through better wages or the benefit package the board just passed.
"Right now as soon as many of them have their (training) certificate they go down the road," Lewis said. "Yet we're the ones that train them."
In regard to the use of the word "condemned" to describe the Newcastle fire house on the Measure B ballot, Lewis said she isn't sure the public would have taken notice, though she said did not mean to deceive anyone.
"If we had used another word there I honestly do not think that would have caught their attention," Lewis said. "They want to go along with the thought that we're lying to them and I take exception to that because my friends will tell you that I'm a hardnosed, tell-it-like-it-is person and I don't lie about things."
After serving on the fire board for two years, David Poore would like to see the panel continue in the same direction with the same momentum.
Poore has lived in Newcastle for 27 years and is a retired lithographer. He said he also held a general contractor's license until he retired.
Poore said if he is reelected to the board he would like to see more participation from the community.
"We've got something started here with the possible construction of the new fire station. With my background I would like to see that move forward," he said. "It's a controversial thing in the neighborhood, but I'm trying to convince folks that it's safety we're talking about here and that requires money to be spent and we're also trying to convince people it's going to be a very large expense."
At a recent emergency meeting, the board established a special committee to examine how the new station will be built.
Poore said that is one way the board is already enhancing community involvement, since two Newcastle residents will serve on it. He contends that Measure B is the only way the new fire station can be built and pay increases can be paid for.
"Unfortunately we are struggling and if (Measure K) passes we will not be able to afford to pay our firefighters anymore," Poore said. "Our budget is such that we will not be able to afford to pay them what we have promised."
Robert Stearns, Jr.
Since 2005, Robert Stearns, Jr. has held a spot on Newcastle's fire board, but before that he was even more directly involved with the fire department.
Stearns was a volunteer firefighter with Newcastle for 16 years after moving from the Bay Area.
"It's amazing. I went to get a physical and the doctor said that most people were retiring at my age, but I told him I wanted to help out the community," Stearns said.
Before he was a production and quality procurement manager at IBM for 30 years, Stearns served as a petty officer in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.
Stearns said his time overseas made him sensitive to other people's cultures, beliefs and opinions very early on in his life.
"I learned to deal with people and respect people from all different cultures of life. I learned to be compassionate with people," Stearns said.
Like his fellow board members, Stearns wants to continue to pursue a new fire station in Newcastle so future boards aren't in the same position.
"I know there is some heated discussion over the cost, but if we don't build a station that meets the needs of the future we're going to end up back where we are now," Stearns said. "We don't need a state-of-the-art station; we need something safe for our residents to come in and something to house our firefighters in a safe work environment."
Stearns has also been involved with the Newcastle Community Association and the Lions Club. He also always plays Santa Claus during the holidays for community events.
Serving on the Newcastle fire board has been a challenge for him, but Stearns said he wants to take on another term.
"I think if someone other than the current board continues next year, they'll find it's not an easy task and that it takes a lot of time and a lot of your own money," Stearns said. "Whether I'm reelected or not I hope to see the board go forth. As a resident and property owner I'm very concerned."
Now that he has observed the current Newcastle Fire District Board of Directors, Dave Ward has made the determination that he is the man to make some changes.
Ward said he has lived in Newcastle for most of his life and is a retired ranch manager. During the fire board meetings he has attended he has not liked what he has seen.
"I've looked at what the present board has done and to put it bluntly they are a financial train wreck," Ward said. "I'm afraid in just a few years the Newcastle fire district will cease to exist and I'll do what it takes to stop that."
Ward said he has helped manage and plan $30 million budgets and that when he has examined the budget of the Newcastle Fire Protection District he has found a lot of "wasteful spending."
If elected to the fire board, Ward said he would quell those spending practices and help get the firefighters in a new building while preserving the current building.
"We have a nonfunctioning board and we have to correct that problem," he said. "To save Newcastle fire district from itself we have to have a functioning board and we can't go meeting after meeting without accomplishing anything."
Ward has publically voiced his disapproval of the current board and called for Lewis to resign from her position on the board at the last meeting.
"If someone makes a statement you don't like, don't pound on the desk with a gavel. Listen to them and then answer their question nicely," Ward said. "I trusted our people we elected and some of that trust is gone now. It's time to step up to the plate."
A town hall meeting will be held on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at Newcastle Elementary that will give those running for the fire board the chance to state their positions. Those who are in support of Measure K or Measure B will also be able to weigh the pros and cons of both tax packages.
Contact Amber Marra at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.