Fire District 1 cutting staff to address property tax revenue slide

Snohomish County Fire District 1 said Thursday it’s reducing its administrative staff in light of a 12.3-percent reduction of property tax revenue for 2012.

Nine administrative positions have been eliminated through a combination of retirements and layoffs that take effect this month as the district seeks to offset a $3 million funding gap in 2012, according to Fire Chief Ed Widdis.

“These changes aren’t easy, but were necessary to address the budget challenges facing the fire district during these tough economic times. Our top priority is to maintain the fire and emergency medical response the public has come to expect, so we are looking for places to cut that do not affect station operations,” he said.

Widdis said these administrative staffing changes will not impact emergency services or fire station staffing. “When you call 9-1-1, you can expect to receive the same service you do today from our dedicated firefighters,” he said.

Widdis said the district’s five-elected commissioners are in the final stages of adopting a $35.8 million budget for 2012, down from $37.3 million in 2011. Fire District 1 relies on property tax as its principal source of revenue. “We’ve seen an unprecedented decline in property values in the past two years with more of the same expected in 2012,” he said. “The 12 percent drop in 2012 comes on top of a 17 percent decrease in the previous two years.”

Fire District 1 will offset expected revenue losses by a combination of administrative cuts and an across-the-board reduction of nearly 12 percent in general fund program expenditures in 2012. “Reducing headquarters staff will mean support programs will be leaner, but we expect with existing resources to maintain our current level of service when responding to the 19,000 fire and emergency medical service calls we can expect to see next year in our service area,” Widdis said.

Five administrative positions were eliminated  in layoffs that took effect Wednesday: one deputy chief, one administrative assistant, one fire and life safety education specialist, one receptionist and one maintenance support employee. Four other positions will be eliminated Nov.16 when retirements take effect for two deputy chiefs and two administrative assistants.

“We’re sad to be losing these employees who have served our citizens well. Over the next few months, we will be reorganizing our administrative staff to fill the responsibilities of those who have retired or were laid off,” Widdis said. “We’re confident that with a streamlined administration and smarter deployment of existing personnel, our firefighters will be able to continue to serve the public well.”

Fire Commission Chair David Chan said the administrative reorganization is a proactive response that will keep Fire District 1 financially sound. “It has always been Fire District 1’s goal to maintain long-term financial stability. To do this, we need to act now to reorganize our work force. It is a very difficult decision that our taxpayers expect us to make as forecasts show a continued decline in property values and tax revenues,” he said. “We are confident together we can weather this economic downturn to a brighter future.”

Fire District 1 is the largest provider of fire and emergency medical service in Snohomish County, operating 12 stations to serve more than 227,000 residents in unincorporated communities, Brier, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway.

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