Difficult decisions loom for ECFR

Local governmental entities are just now beginning to dive in to the work of planning and preparing their 2015 budgets.

It’s a stressful time that always offers elected officials a variety of challenges, no matter what financial situation they are dealing with. But when the challenges and obstacles could possibly involve laying off employees, the stakes are even higher.

East County Fire and Rescue, a rural fire department that serves the unincorporated areas north and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal, is currently facing this kind of situation.

During its most recent board of commissioners meeting, tensions ran high as several of the department’s firefighters expressed their frustration and concern that up to three of their comrades could end up losing their jobs at the end of the year. They understandably want answers.

The primary reason for the potential deficit, estimated at $120,000 to $130,000, is the sunset of a three-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was awarded to ECFR in June 2011. Funding ran out this past June.

Thanks to an increase in property tax revenues, the district was able to cover those positions until the end of the year. Now, commissioners are in the hot seat, tasked with finding a way to save those jobs and maintain the service levels that ECFR residents have come to expect.

While the grant was accepted in good faith three years ago, the commission and the firefighters hired with monies generated from it knew this was a possibility.

With few options available to create new revenue streams, the situation will force ECFR leaders to meticulously pick apart their proposed budget like they may never have before, just as many households and businesses have had to do, particularly in recent years with the economic downturn. The bottom line is, as commissioner Mike Berg recently stated, “there is only so much money in the pot,” and that could mean some unpopular, but necessary, decisions are on the horizon.

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