Central Whidbey Fire to wrap up 2012 budget

A meeting Thursday may be the last opportunity for people to weigh in on Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue's proposed 2012 budget. The district's board of commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget beginning at 5 p.m. at Fire Station 53, the agency's administrative headquarters, at 1164 Race Road.

A meeting Thursday may be the last opportunity for people to weigh in on Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue’s proposed 2012 budget.

The district’s board of commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget beginning at 5 p.m. at Fire Station 53, the agency’s administrative headquarters, at 1164 Race Road.

According to the draft budget, the district’s biggest expenses of the year are tied to a handful of capital purchases. The largest is the purchase of one brand-new fire engine at a cost not to exceed $500,000.

It will immediately replace Engine 542, which was built in 1986. It will also take the place of its sister fire truck, Engine 512, at a later date. Although that will mean one less rig at Central Whidbey’s disposal, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, Fire Chief Ed Hartin said.

“I wouldn’t say we’d be down one, it’s more a case of how many do we really need,” Hartin said.

Engine 542 was scheduled for replacement two years ago, but Hartin said the purchase was delayed shortly after his appointment as chief so an assessment of the district’s assets and community needs could be completed.

Hartin said one new fire truck, which carries more water than the older vehicles, and the refurbishment of three water tenders could adequately take the place of the two vintage engines.

One tender has already been refurbished, and a large portion of work to the second – about $82,500 – is slated for 2012. The remaining reconditioning, along with work to the third tender, would be completed in 2013.

The district plans to spend about $60,000 improving radio communications, about $55,000 on repairs to a training building/burn room in Greenbank and about $40,000 to replace an old emergency rescue minivan that was picked up as surplus from Island Transit. It will be traded in for a new crew-cab truck.

Finally, the department plans to spend about $15,460 on a financial management accounting system, about $15,000 on seven new defibrillators and about $5,000 on a mobile data computer for a command vehicle.

The district’s maintenance and operation budget, which pays for everything from office supplies to salaries and uniforms, will grow from about $1.6 million in 2011 to about $1.66 million next year. That represents an increase of about 3.8 percent.

Employment expenses account for the largest part of the fund’s growth, totaling $41,282 more than last year. While $29,863 of that is comprised of salaries, wages and reimbursements, it’s not the result of cost of living increases.

“The firefighters’ union voted to take a zero, zero and zero (cost of living increase) over their three-year contract due to the current economic climate,” Hartin said.

In fact, Hartin said no district staff will receive raises in 2012. To support the union’s sacrifice, administrative staff with increases already built into their contracts – that includes Hartin – volunteered to waive their raises.

The 3.8 percent increase is largely due to the cost of filling out department ranks. At the beginning of 2011, the district had just six part-time firefighters, which is five short of 11 total positions. The spots have since been filled.

The only employees who will see a bigger paycheck next year are three of the district’s six full-time firefighters. Hartin said they are expected to be promoted.

The increased cost of personnel benefits, from state Department of Labor and Industries and unemployment contributions to medical and dental plan expenses are costing an additional $11,446 over last year.

Finally under office and operating supplies, a catch-all section of the maintenance and operating fund that includes everything from pencils to firefighting foam, the district plans to spend about $13,533 more than last year.

Most of that will be spent on training manuals concerning hazardous materials and apparatus operation. According to Hartin, standards have changed over the past decade and this will allow firefighters to hit the books and get caught up.

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