When the members of the Star Fire District's governing panel resigned Friday, the broke fire district was left without any directors to conduct business.
The district overspent its $1.3 million budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past three years. The commissioners admitted "budgeting errors, overspending, a lack of oversight, revenue shortfalls and a failure to comply with adopted policy" in a statement Friday.
Commissioners Gunnar Ho-warth, John Miller and Jeff Sedivec said they "accept responsibility for not addressing the district's current and complex issues."
Earlier this week, the city of Star decided to look into forming its own fire department. And the Eagle and Star fire districts terminated a five-year joint operating agreement after just nine months.
While public officials sort it all out, residents in the Star Fire District will have fire protection, said Eagle Fire Chief Mike Winkle.
"There will be no interruption of service," he said.
But the Star district won't be able to do anything until Gov. Butch Otter appoints new commissioners. They will have to decide whether to work with the Eagle district, with the city of Star or try to make the Star Fire District work.
How did it get so bad?
For the past few years, the Star Fire District has been bleeding cash and racking up debt, rendering it unable to meet its sole statutory requirement: providing fire protection services to homes and businesses in Star and the surrounding area.
In 2010 and 2011, Star Fire District set its annual budget at about $1.3 million, according to the city of Star and the Eagle Fire District. In 2010, the district overspent by about $700,000; in 2011, it overspent by about $1.1 million.
What did that money pay for?
The district built a new fire station, entered a long-term lease-purchase agreement for a new fire engine and obtained an almost $500,000 note, to be paid back with future property tax collections. The fire district has renewed the bank note at least twice.
But the details are unclear. The commissioners and their fire chief didn't respond to questions.
Why did the Star Fire District join forces with the Eagle Fire District?
About a year ago, the Star Fire District approached the Eagle district looking for help. It said it was in debt, grappling with a $300,000 annual shortfall and facing layoffs, according to Eagle fire officials.
The two districts agreed to a temporary joint operating agreement, with the goal of merging into one fire district covering parts of Ada, Canyon, Boise and Gem counties.
In May 2012, the two districts signed the agreement to operate jointly for up to five years, allowing time to iron out kinks before formally and permanently consolidating.
Under that agreement. Star's 14 firefighters became Eagle Fire District employees, leaving the Star district with one employee - Fire Chief Kevin Courtney.
Courtney has continued to draw his $85,000 annual salary even though he had no fire department to manage. As of Friday, he was still Star Fire District's sole employee. Courtney could not be reached for comment, and Star commissioners did not respond to requests for information about why they continued to employ him.
What happened to the joint operation?
About a month ago, the Star district asked Star Mayor Nate Mitchell if the city would consider starting its own fire department; the fire district could contract with the city. Boise, Meridian and Nampa have city fire departments that provide contracted services to fire districts.
When Eagle district commissioners learned about that, they asked Star commissioners to re-commit to the consolidation plan at a meeting on Monday. The Star fire commissioners said they couldn't make that commitment, so the two districts agreed to terminate the joint powers agreement within 180 days.
"The Star fire commissioners decided it was in their best interest to pursue an agreement with the city of Star," Winkle said.
What does the city of Star say?
Mayor Nate Mitchell confirmed he'd been approached by the Star Fire District Commission about a month ago. When the commissioners asked him for help, he said, he felt obligated to try to find a solution. About half of the fire district's taxpayers are city taxpayers, to whom Mitchell must answer.
Mitchell presented a proposal Tuesday to the city council to start its own fire department. The city council agreed to study the plan.
Why didn't someone catch the Star district's financial troubles?
The Statesman has confirmed that the Star Fire District did not get independent annual audits as prescribed by state law. Other unconfirmed violations include not following open meeting, budget and other operating procedures.
"I am proud of the three commissioners for recognizing the magnitude of the decisions that need to be made by the district, and for their willingness to do the right thing" by resigning, Mitchell said Friday.
Is anyone suggesting that the violations are criminal?
Mitchell said no one has suggested that. It's possible the fire district could face civil penalties for violating audit or open meeting rules.
What happens next?
The brouhaha has fallen into Otter's lap. He must appoint three people to assume the commissioners' duties.
Why is the governor involved?
If one fire district commissioner resigns, fellow commissioners appoint a replacement. When two or more members of a three-member commission resign, the board can't act and the task falls to the governor - who, in this case, lives within the Star Fire District.
Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell