Directors of Wallowa Lake Rural Fire Protection District are planning to recruit new volunteer firefighters after their last two resigned.

The district board is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 5, at the lake fire hall. Several residents have said they plan to attend although the firefighter plan is not on the agenda.

Board president Chuck Havens told the Chieftain that he could not be more specific about the plan, but that it would involve four new firefighters.

Asked whether they would replace the Joseph Fire Department, which provides fire protection on contract, Havens and board member Dale Mammen said the new firefighters could work alongside Joseph firefighters.

This would be more firefighters than the district has had in recent times. It always has contracted for protection from Joseph, and other county fire officials say no other fire department could serve the lake area.

Its last firefighter, Doug Buska, who resigned in January, said he doubts there are enough year-round lake residents to fulfill such a plan. Havens would not identify the recruits.

The current Joseph contract expires June 30. Joseph Fire Chief Tom Clevenger has told the City Council he will propose a new contract with a 15 percent rate increase, raising the district's annual cost from $24,761 to $28,476.

Clevenger has said there is nothing to negotiate and a recent request he made to meet with Havens was sidelined with a direction to talk instead to the district's newly hired attorney, J. Kenneth Jones of Eugene. Clevenger said he won't do so.

Earlier, board members had instructed Jones to open contract negotiations with either the city council or city attorney, bypassing Clevenger, although the council several times has made it clear that the district should work through Clevenger.

Clevenger also has said the board fails to notify him of its meetings and has told him not to attend. He also has been refused requests to see the district budget, he said.

In a memo to the council, Clevenger recommended replacing the current two-year contract with a one-year agreement.

"Due to the ever-changing demeanor of the lake district board, we may need to adjust terms and conditions as our relationship changes," Clevenger wrote. "I see no advantage to the city to be locked into a two-year contract with a hostile lake board."

Clevenger noted that the proposed increase is less than the $7,500 the board has voted to spend on attorney fees or the "over $6,000 annually for personal stipend payments and mileage reimbursements for board members."

Havens lives in Clarkston, Wash., and Mammen and board member Greg Blackman in La Grande. Only board member Bill Bushlen lives in the district. The fifth member, Angie Rubin of Joseph, resigned in January, citing the confrontational nature of board meetings.

Clevenger also told the council that if no contract can be agreed upon, the fire department would offer individual fire protection contracts to district residents for $120 and commercial establishments for $150, providing about $45,000 in city revenues.

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