EFR okays hiring freeze

September 23, 2008

By Staff

Facing grim budget projections from its member cities, the Eastside Fire & Rescue board narrowly approved a hiring freeze during its Sept. 9 meeting.

The board is working to develop next year’s budget and several of its members, including the cities of Sammamish and Issaquah, have asked that the regional fire group keep its budget increase to no more than 5 percent.

Dave Gray, EFR chief financial officer, presented several budget options. If there were no financial constraints the budget increase could be 6.5 percent — a roughly $20.5 million budget. Under that funding option, department officials would be able to do everything they want, according to the information Gray provided.

Gray also presented other levels, such as a 6 percent increase, which he said would mean cuts in supplies and training and deferring some purchases. In order to bring the increase down to the 5.5 percent or 5 percent level, EFR would need to leave two positions unfilled — a maintenance person and regional emergency management person — in addition to the other cuts.

“Really, it goes very quickly into labor,” Gray said.

Lee Fellinge, the board’s vice chair and mayor of Sammamish, said it didn’t go into labor fast enough. Fellinge said the first things to remove should be the unfilled positions, not be supplies or training.

“It’s silly. Why would we do that when we’re going to add these more, higher paid positions?” Fellinge said. “Not filling these positions is far superior to cutting training for firefighters.”

Maureen McCarry, a board member who is also an Issaquah City Council member agreed. She also noted that many of the cities which are members of EFR have already hired or designated emergency managers, and said it would be redundant to have another in place for EFR.

Fellinge suggested a hiring freeze for all support personnel. EFR will still be able to hire new firefighters.

EFR Chief Lee Soptich defended the need for the positions, saying the department already has a lower administrative and support staff level than other comparably sized departments.

Additionally, firefighters are having a difficult time with their current workload and need the extra help, said Wes Collins, deputy chief of planning.

“It’s a different position that could take a big load off the department,” he said. “You are burning us out. We love our jobs, but it’s wearing on me.”

Fellinge said he understood and respected the stress the firefighters were under.

The final vote was 4-3 in favor of the hiring freeze. In favor of the freeze were Fellinge, McCarry, Jack Barry (Sammamish) and Dave Kappler (Issaquah).

Opposed were Board Chair Ron Pedee (Fire District 38), Rick Gaines (Fire District 10) and Mike Mitchell (Fire District 10).

Dee Williamson (North Bend) was absent.

Budget deliberations will continue in the next two months. Once the board approves a budget, each member jurisdiction will have its financial contribution set. The members must pay the amount approved by the board.

Reach Reporter Ari Cetron at 392-6434, ext. 233, or samrev@isspress.com.

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