Proposed ECFR budget eliminates three firefighter positions

ECFR Commissioner Gary Larson resigns

Letters of interest from residents interested in filling the vacant position on the East County Fire and Rescue Commission are currently being accepted.

Residents living within the current boundaries of ECFR can submit letters discussing knowledge of the fire district, vision for the fire district and public service experience.

Submissions are due by Monday, Nov. 3, at 3 p.m. The commission will review submissions at its Nov. 4 regular board meeting, then interview the top five applicants at the Nov. 18 meeting. The appointee will take office Dec. 2.

The remaining two years of the six-year term will be filled as part of the 2015 General Election.

The vacancy was created when Chairman Gary Larson resigned Oct. 6.

Letters of interest can delivered to the Fern Prairie Fire Station, 600 N.E. 267th Ave. , Camas, WA 98607.

For more information about the vacancy, contact Commission Chairman George F. "Jack" Hoober at 835-7767 or ghoober@ecfr.us or Fire Chief Scott Koehler at 834-4908 or skoehler@ecfr.us.

To learn ore about ECFR, visit www.ecfr.us.

Letters of interest from residents interested in filling the vacant position on the East County Fire and Rescue Commission are currently being accepted.

Residents living within the current boundaries of ECFR can submit letters discussing knowledge of the fire district, vision for the fire district and public service experience.

Submissions are due by Monday, Nov. 3, at 3 p.m. The commission will review submissions at its Nov. 4 regular board meeting, then interview the top five applicants at the Nov. 18 meeting. The appointee will take office Dec. 2.

The remaining two years of the six-year term will be filled as part of the 2015 General Election.

The vacancy was created when Chairman Gary Larson resigned Oct. 6.

Letters of interest can delivered to the Fern Prairie Fire Station, 600 N.E. 267th Ave. , Camas, WA 98607.

For more information about the vacancy, contact Commission Chairman George F. “Jack” Hoober at 835-7767 or ghoober@ecfr.us or Fire Chief Scott Koehler at 834-4908 or skoehler@ecfr.us.

To learn ore about ECFR, visit www.ecfr.us.

On the eve of the onset of discussions about East County Fire and Rescue’s 2015 proposed budget, which includes the possibility of firefighter layoffs, one of the district’s longtime commissioners turned in his resignation.

It was announced at the Oct. 7 commission meeting that Chairman Gary Larson had decided to leave his post after 35 years.

“After a great deal of soul-searching, I have made the decision that it is time to resign my position as a fire commissioner, with East County Fire and Rescue, effective immediately,” Larson wrote in his one-sentence resignation letter dated Oct. 6. He did not attend the meeting.

Commissioner George F. “Jack” Hoober was appointed as the new chairman, while Martha Martin was named vice chairwoman.

Hoober has been a commissioner for 14 years.

“We’re going to miss [Larson],” Hoober said. “We’ll all miss his work here.”

Chief Scott Koehler commented that Larson, who also serves as the president of the Clark County Fire Commissioners Association, has had a positive impact on the fire district since he became one of its elected officials in 1979.

“He committed 35 years to this agency and this community,” Koehler said. “He is responsible for a lot of good.”

Larson initially refused to offer any additional comment on or explanation for his resignation when contacted by a Post-Record reporter on Monday. However, he called the newspaper this morning and said he wanted to clarify that his decision was solely based on health reasons.

Following the announcement of Larson’s resignation last Tuesday, Koehler dove into a presentation of the 2015 proposed budget.

“We have good news, and we have bad news.” he said.

The good news, Koehler said, is that according to the Clark County Assessor’s Office the district can expect to see a 7.51 percent increase in tax revenue in 2015. Projections call for $1.79 million, which is up $95,500 from 2014.

The bad news, he explained, is that a number of additional expenses — ranging from increasing vehicle maintenance costs to funding required by Clark County to purchase a new radio system — will quickly eat up most of that increase.

The proposed $2.5 million budget includes $628,000 in salary costs for the department’s six full-time firefighters, two full-time chief officers and one full-time office manager. There is also $154,589 to support the wages of five part-time firefighters. These numbers include a cost of living adjustment of 2.6 percent — equal to approximately $15,421 — a placeholder as contract discussions are currently underway between the firefighters’ union and the district.

Three current firefighter positions, which had been funded for the past three years through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are not included in the proposed budget and stand to be eliminated.

“The reason that it doesn’t have nine (full-time firefighter positions) in there is that when you get to the bottom of the budget, we’re out of money,” Koehler said. “Our estimates are that it would take 208,000 additional dollars to keep all three of the SAFER grant employees on.”

Koehler said he initially thought the property tax revenue increase would have more impact, however, it was offset by other revenues that have slowly diminished over the years. Timber excise tax, estimated to produce $3,000 in 2015, is one glaring example.

“I am an eternal optimist, and I thought based on the fact that we are going to have this additional income, it would help us out,” he said. “I was amazed as we looked back at collections, how poorly some of the things we have collected in the past have streamed in. At the end of the year, when the books all balance, maybe that will be a little different. But we will never again see $120,000 timber revenue until they start going up and cutting trees like there’s no tomorrow, and that’s not likely to happen for a long time.”

Koehler said the peak in timber excise tax dollars came in 2011.

Another significant item on the proposed 2015 budget is a $60,000 payment toward a $267,000 capital project being spearheaded by Clark County to fund a new radio system.

Currently, ECFR’s full-time and part-time paid firefighters, along with approximately 50 volunteers, provide fire protection and emergency medical service response to the 10,000 residents who live within the 60 square miles of unincorporated area that are north of and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal.

The district responded to 826 calls in 2013, 917 in 2012 and 888 in 2011.

The final budget must be approved at the Nov. 18 regular board meeting or at a special meeting before the end of November. The budget must be submitted to Clark County by the last business day of the month.

Koehler said he is now looking for direction from the commission, which will meet to discuss the budget at least two more times during regular meetings on Oct. 21 and Nov. 4.

“We are not to the point to make final decisions,” he said. “This is our first pass. I guarantee you that by the end of the November, things will change. This is where we start having discussions and you start giving me direction, so that by the end of November we will submit the final requests to the county.”

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