EFR budget call for 3.1 percent increase in funding
November 7, 2012
By Caleb Heeringa
Eastside Fire & Rescue board members are scheduled to approve the agency’s $22.2 million 2013 budget at a Nov. 8 meeting.
The budget represents a 3.1 percent increase from 2012, something Deputy Chief Wes Collins attributes to already-agreed-to wage and benefit increases for firefighters as well as modest increases in several programs that the agency cut back during the recent economic downturn, such as volunteer training and protective clothing for firefighters.
“After the downturn, we cut back on a lot of supplies like clothing and bunker gear,” Collins said. “Those things have a shelf life and we’re coming up on a bubble where they’re going to have to be replaced.”
Sammamish’s bill for fire service will rise in tandem with the agency’s budget – 3.1 percent. The city will pay $6.04 million compared to $5.85 million in 2012.
Firefighters are due an automatic 2 percent wage increase under the terms of their labor agreement with the agency. The cost of medical benefits will also rise by 6 percent, with employees covering any cost increase above that number.
The budget calls for no new employees and the agency is hoping to keep personnel costs in check by waiting until August or September of next year to replace two firefighters who are retiring early next year.
The retirements are two of what Chief Lee Soptich hopes are many more in the coming years. Soptich said more than 30 of the agency’s 125 firefighters are eligible to retire in the next several years. If all of those employees elected to retire at the same time, the agency would be faced with a significant staffing issue, since new employees take several months to train before being ready to be deployed.
“If even eight or nine people retired in the same year it would stress our system horribly,” Soptich said. “We don’t have the staff to train that many people at once.”
In an effort to stagger retirements, the agency is offering up to four firefighters $58,000 “buy outs” to incentivize them to call it quits. That amount of money reflects the savings the agency will realize over a three-year period when paying a rookie firefighter compared to a veteran firefighter.
“That’s $58,000 we’re going to spend anyway if (the veteran firefighter) decides to stay for that period,” Soptich said.
Mayor Tom Odell, one of Sammamish’s two representatives on the EFR board, said the buyouts make good business sense given the prospect of having to grapple with more than a dozen retirements at once.
“It hits our books now, but when you look at it out over the next few years, it makes some sense,” Odell said. “It prevents a tidal wave of retirements and allows us to spend time rehiring and replacing them over several years.”
Partners’ annual contribution to the agency’s equipment replacement fund will be edging up by a bit more than $100,000 in 2013. The fund projects the eventual cost of replacing the agency’s fleet of vehicles and equipment over 15 years and collects money on an annual basis, hopefully avoiding sudden cost increases to partners if something suddenly breaks down. The board had elected to scale back their contributions to the fund during the recent economic downturn and is now having to make up lost ground to keep up with the 15-year schedule.
Despite the uptick in EFR’s budget, King County Fire District 10 will actually see its contribution to the agency drop by 1.4 percent, or $102,000, thanks to a combination of a 9 percent decrease in the district’s assessed value and annexations of parts of the district’s area by Bellevue and Renton. EFR determines each partner’s bill for fire services based on the assessed value of areas covered by specific stations.
The assessed value-based funding model will also mean a significant increase in Issaquah’s bill for fire service. The 2013 budget calls for a 7.8 percent increase – approximately $393,000 – because Issaquah’s assessed value did not fall as drastically as District 10’s, Deputy Chief Greg Tryon said. Issaquah is now responsible for 92 percent of the assessed value covered by Station 72, on Northwest Maple Street, compared to 83 percent last year.