Issaquah contributes more for fire protection

November 27, 2012

By Caleb Heeringa

Eastside Fire & Rescue board members approved the agency’s $22.2 million 2013 budget Nov. 8.

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 to modest increases in several programs that the agency cut 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.”

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.

By the numbers

The amount Issaquah and other Eastside Fire & Rescue partners contribute to the agency is changing for 2013.

  • Issaquah — $5,406,969/
  • 7.8 percent increase
  • North Bend — $830,754/
  • 3.3 percent increase
  • Sammamish — $6,041,036/3.1 percent increase
  • King County Fire District 10 — $7,133,973/1.4 percent decrease
  • King County Fire District 38 — $1,424,228/2.4 percent increase

Source: Eastside Fire & Rescue

The budget calls for a 7.8 percent increase – or about $393,000 — because Issaquah’s assessed value did not fall as drastically as Fire Protection District 10’s in unincorporated King County, Deputy Chief Greg Tryon said.

Issaquah is now responsible for 92 percent of the assessed value covered by Fire Station 72, on Northwest Maple Street next to the Issaquah Transit Center, compared to 83 percent last year.

Firefighters are due to receive 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 could keep personnel costs in check by waiting until August or September to replace two firefighters who plan to retire early next year.

Chief Lee 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 face a significant staffing issue, because new employees take several months to train before they can 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 buyouts. That amount of money reflects the savings the agency would realize over a three-year period when paying a rookie firefighter compared to a veteran firefighter.

Issaquah and other EFR partners’ annual contribution to the agency’s equipment replacement fund will edge 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.

The board elected to scale back contributions to the fund during the recent economic downturn and now has 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 by Bellevue and Renton.

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