The Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety fire commissioners are asking the public to consider a levy on the April 23 ballot to fill an almost $1 million dollar funding gap and allow the district to maintain staffing levels and improve response times.
Despite cuts, Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety, which is King County Fire District No. 43, had to fill a $932,000 budget deficit in 2013 due to falling home values. According to Fire Chief Brad Doerflinger, the district used money from its reserve fund to make up the difference, leaving about $347,000 in the fund.
The fire district is funded by property taxes that are based on yearly assessed valuations. According to the district, assessed valuations have decreased 27 percent over the last four years, which equals a $1,014,188 drop in revenue. The district currently collects $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The levy, if approved, would allow the district to collect an additional $1.5 million per year for three years beginning in 2014. Based on current valuations, that would be about a 38 cent increase.
Doerflinger said that over the last four years the district has reduced the minimum number of firefighters on duty from 12 to 10, has reduced staff by four firefighters and four administrative personnel, frozen salaries for administrative employees as well as firefighters, cut back on training volunteer firefighters, reduced the overtime budget and in-district training, eliminated out-of-state training as well as yearly physicals for firefighters, restructured medical coverage, and received concessions from the union in 2010 that totaled $124,000.
Response times in 2009, when stations were operating with a 12 person crew, averaged 5 minutes 26 seconds anywhere in the district and in 2012 they had increased to an average of 6:01.
Currently there are three stations in the district that are staffed with career firefighters and have a fire engine and an aid car that are currently cross-staffed and available for use. Which vehicle is taken on a call depends on the nature of the call received and what firefighters expect they’ll need.
The April levy would allow the district to maintain current staffing levels and would allow the district to have guaranteed staffing dedicated specifically to one of the aid cars each day.
The district last had a crew specifically for one of the aid cars about six months ago, Doerflinger said.
“As we felt we could afford to staff it, we did,” Doerflinger said. “We really feel that aid car is important.”
According to the district, if the levy fails there will have to be additional cuts to staffing and temporary closing of one of the stations based on staffing levels for each day, known as a station brownout. Doerflinger said anywhere from four to seven firefighters will have to be laid off, depending on the actual valuations for 2014.
Doerflinger said that the long term vision for the district is to have a sustainable budget and that the citizen’s advisory committee and the board of fire commissioners chose a three year levy instead of a four year levy based on current economic projections.
“We are anticipating that the economists are right this time and in three years valuations will be growing again,” Doerflinger said. “We need to get to a balanced, sustainable budget and start building reserve again.”
This story has been updated to correct an earlier version. The district currently operates with a minimum of 10 firefighters district wide, not per station as initially reported.