Firefighters to confront district board at meeting

A number of North Whidbey firefighters are unhappy with how their district commissioners are governing, but the fire board members aren’t sure why.

“We haven’t seen issues,” said Commissioner Marvin Koorn. “We really don’t know what the issues are.”

Fire personnel will have a chance to explain their grievances at a special meeting slated for 6 p.m., Monday at the Heller Road station.

Last week, the Whidbey News-Times published a letter from 26 district members declaring a lack of confidence in the three-person board. Capt. Matt VanGiesen said he and other people who signed the letter will attend Monday’s meeting to discuss their frustrations.

The strongly worded letter offered few specifics, but stated the commissioners“ continually fail” the district “by putting personal agenda above the needs of the community and the firefighters protecting it.

Firefighter/EMT Chris Hernandez also didn’t give specific examples, but said in an interview he felt there weren’t enough “checks and balances.”

Firefighter/EMT Rich Hoover, who said he didn’t get a chance to sign the letter but supports its contents, said he’s upset about the district’s relatively small budget.

Hoover said with aging engines and maintenance needed at the stations, the district desperately needs to pass a levy lid lift or bond.

The compressed air brakes on a rescue apparatus don’t always work properly, he said, and drivers have to idle while the pressure builds.

One of the district buildings experiences frequent plumbing issues and the marine rescue boat requires regular expensive maintenance.

“It’s a revolving door of badness,” Hoover said.

The district attempted a levy lid lift in the 2017 election, but it failed with more than 65 percent of voters voting against it. T.J. Lamont, who currently sits on the board but didn’t in 2017, had publicly said the lift wasn’t necessary. At the time, he said the chiefs needed to cut back on spending instead.

As the deadline approaches to appear on the 2019 November ballot, Lamont said he and the other commissioners are still in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue a bond or lift. He said they’re evaluating the budget and equipment needs to see what’s in the best interest of the voters as well as the district.

He noted that it’s likely North Whidbey residents will see their insurance premiums go up if the engines aren’t replaced.

Koorn said in the meantime, the district has been trying to reduce expenditures where possible.

“We’re trying to live within the budget that the taxpayers give us,” he said.

Hoover said he thinks the commissioners could do more to advocate for a budget increase and distribute more information about the district in general.

In the letter, firefighters urged the public to attend board meetings, arrange times to meet with personnel and “if so compelled” run for a seat.

Marvin Koorn’s position on the board will be up for election this year.

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