Fire District 1 may have to lay off four firefighters

284
6

Four firefighters at Snohomish County Fire District 1 have been given notices that they could be laid off as early as Feb. 15, according to a news release from Fire District 1 Friday.

“We hope to come up with a solution before that date to allow these firefighters to stay on the job. They are valued employees who have served our citizens well,” said Fire Chief Ed Widdis. “Unfortunately, there aren’t any easy answers when we are facing a drop in property tax revenue of more than 12 percent this year with more of the same expected in 2013.”

Fire District 1 employs 190 firefighters and staffs 12 fire stations around the clock to serve more than 225,000 residents in unincorporated south Snohomish County, Brier, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway.

Property taxes are the primary source of funding for district operations. As home values have declined at an unprecedented rate over the past two years, so have property tax revenues in Fire District 1.

The district has already implemented major cutbacks. Nine administrative positions were eliminated in November through a combination of retirements and layoffs. An across-the-board reduction of nearly 12 percent in general fund program expenditures was also part of the $35.8 million budget for 2012 adopted by the Board of Commissioners in December.

Until now, Fire District 1 had been able to avoid cutbacks in firefighting staff. In addition to the four layoffs under consideration, three vacant firefighter positions are slated to be eliminated.

Widdis said that between now and Feb. 15 he will continue to explore other ways to reduce costs without having to implement the layoffs.

“Our top priority is to maintain the fire and emergency medical response the public has come to expect,” Widdis said. “We’re hoping we can find a way to keep these four firefighters on the job and serving our citizens.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. Reducing the total of 190 firefighters by 7 is a 3.7% reduction. In a non-unionized organization this expense issue would often be remedied by management-mandated salary cuts for the duration of the economic downturn. I suggest that the firefighters’ union offer to take the needed pay cut.

  2. Can Edmond’s residents vote for fire commissioners? Looks like to me we need to clean house. Because being short potentially 7 firefighters shouldn’t be acceptable.

  3. The firefighters’ union is a very professional group. I’d be surprised if they don’t reach an agreement with management that meets the needs of everyone affected. Furthermore, FD1 does not collect property taxes from Edmonds. Our city has a fixed price contract with FD1, so declining property values do not affect their revenue from Edmonds.

  4. Here are some other data about our cost for fire services. The direct costs (no capital items) in 2008 was $7.6m and was growing at a rate of 9.3%. When we sold the FD and started paying a fee for service to FD1 that fee was $6.2m in 2011 and grew by the COLA amount (around 3.5%) to make our cost for 2012 about $6.4m. The fee will grow in future years by a COLA amount. That fee is likely to grow to $6.9m in 2014.

    Funding for the FD1 payment comes from 3 sources: EMS taxes, Transport Fees paid for by insurance companies, and the General Fund. Edmonds property values have declined from $6.4B last year to $5.795B for 2012. Since EMS tax is fixed at $.50/1000 the EMS tax dropped from $3.2m down to $2.9m or a $300k drop. Transport fees are paid by insurance companies and are around $800k per year. So to meet our payment to FD1 we pay from the GF. The GF amount for 2011 was $2.2m and will grow to $2.7m this year.

    So as we look forward our payment to FD1 may grow at a COLA rate and if that remains the same 3.5% then our fee will grow to about $6.9m in 2014. If assessed property values stay flat that leaves only the growth of fees from insurance companies and the GF to make up the difference. If the GF is the only source of growth the need will grow to $3.1m or up $900k above 2011 levels. Hopefully we can find ways to gain more revenue from insurance companies to make up some of the added costs and reduce the pressure on the GF.

  5. Consider yourselves lucky. You do not get to vote for commisioners or taxes like I do in unincorporated Bothell. I calculated the equivalent property tax you would pay this district 1 if you did pay property taxes. The contract is for 6.2 million this year and Edmonds total property valuation in the budget is about 5.7 billion. Edmonds also pay to maintain fire hydrants, Fire station buildings through the parks dept, and also has a legacy pension fund, all which add up to a few hundred thousand more on top of the 6.2 million in costs. If you do the math, the price you pay for total fire and EMS is about $1.10 per thousand.. My fire district 1 charges you the equivalent of $1.10 per thousand of assessed value. I PAY $2.21 per thousand. Pretty much my taxes subsidize your cheep fire service. The Edmonds exectutive estimated that fire service was going to cost over 8 million in 2011 if they had not made that contract.

  6. Curtis:

    Edmonds did negotiate a favorable contract with FD1 in 2009, but not quite as good as you’ve depicted it to be. Here’s a couple of points that you’ve overlooked. Firstly, while your tax rate is higher your property values are lower. Secondly, Edmonds owns the fire stations that had an estimated replacement value of $8.3 million in 2009.

LEAVE A REPLY