Firefighters might get buyout option

November 17, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

Eastside Fire & Rescue might try to entice highly paid, longtime employees to take a buyout option if layoffs become a real possibility for the 2010 budget.The EFR board of directors approved using buyouts to reduce labor costs, though Finance Chief Dave Gray cautioned against reading too much into its implications.

“Because they approved it doesn’t mean that it’s in play,” Gray said. “Officially, it’s just a tool.”

Members of EFR’s administration cannot take advantage of the buyout — it only applies to employees represented in the firefighter and battalion chief labor agreements.

Also, the bill passed by the board would only allow three employees to take advantage of the buyout option.

Those employees would be able to leave EFR and receive up to $12,000 from the agency.

Gray said a buyout option could result in cost savings, if the agency replaced employees who have high salaries and large amounts of vacation time.

The bill appears to have come up in anticipation of budget discussions in December regarding EFR’s expenses. The board will have to address a $548,557 shortfall, and the buyouts might be part of the solution.

To ease the financial pressure on its partner cities, the EFR administration proposed asking for a 0 percent increase in partner contributions.

While contributions would be flat, the cost of labor is rising in 2010. Firefighters are asking for a 1.5 percent raise. In addition, their medical and dental insurance benefits are going to increase at 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

To balance the budget, EFR staff proposed dipping into reserve funds and equipment replacement funds. Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Griffin said the staff is also working with the local firefighters union to see if there are ways to cut costs through the firefighters’ labor agreement.

If those options don’t cover the shortfall, EFR officials could explore layoffs.

The buyout option passed Nov. 10 would probably become a tool if layoffs were on the table, Gray said.

The EFR board approved the buyout option 6-1, with Sammamish representative Nancy Whitten dissenting. Whitten said she was afraid the buyout option would amount to handouts to employees who would be retiring soon anyway.

The board will not pass the expenditure side until Dec. 8.

EFR board passes half of 2010 budget

The Eastside Fire & Rescue board of directors passed the revenue half of its 2010 budget Nov. 10. The expenditure half of the budget is scheduled for discussion and a vote Dec. 8.

The budget calls for the regional fire agency to receive about $20.5 million in revenues, the vast majority of which comes from its five partners —- Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend and two fire districts in unincorporated King County.

When the expenditure side of the budget comes up for a vote, the board will have to decide how to make up a difference of $548,557 between those approved revenues and its anticipated spending. In a preliminary budget delivered to the board Nov. 10, Finance Chief Dave Gray estimated that EFR would spend about $20.9 million in 2010.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the revenue side of the 2010 budget, with Sammamish representative Michele Petitti opposing. Issaquah representative Eileen Barber was absent.

King County Fire District 10 contributes the most of the five partners, about $6.7 million. Sammamish contributes the second most of the five partners, about $5.3 million. Issaquah contributes about $4.5 million; King County Fire District 38 contributes about $1.3 million; and North Bend contributes $735,027.

A variety of other sources of revenue, including state funding and donations, add up to about $1.9 million in additional funding.

J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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