After pushing it to the wire at their last meeting on Dec. 3, the Camas City Council has approved a $195 million biennial budget for 2019-20.
“Congratulations. That was a little easier this time,” said newly appointed Camas Mayor Shannon Turk after the councilors, absent Bonnie Carter, unanimously passed the budget, which includes five somewhat controversial fire department positions, on Monday night with little discussion or fanfare.
The two-year budget increases the city’s appropriations to salaries and benefits within the Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CWFD) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Fund by $663,988 in 2019 and by an additional $273,518 in 2020. Much of that money will pay for the four new firefighters and one new fire marshal positions approved by the city councilors Monday night.
City leaders had pushed the budget down to the final city council meeting of 2018 after several councilors expressed concerns about the city’s fire department partner — the city of Washougal — refusing to foot their portion of the new firefighter positions.
Under the two cities’ interlocal fire department agreement, Washougal is responsible for about 40 percent of the department’s costs, while Camas pays for roughly 60 percent.
A February fire that led to the rescue of a man and his two dogs, as well as fines and penalties from the state over what many firefighters is the department’s too-low staffing levels brought the issue of fire department needs to the forefront of several Camas City Council meetings throughout the spring and summer.
At the Dec. 3 council meeting, City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch said she believed the issue was critical.
““I’m going to, personally, go forward with it no matter what,” Rusch said Dec. 3, of passing a biennial budget that included the five fire department positions. “I’m not trying to be irresponsible with our taxpayers’ dollars, but the feedback from people I’ve talked to is that this is very important to our city … and that we need this no matter what (Washougal decides).”
The council members will need to approve the hiring of the fire department positions, but the budget does allow for Camas to pay 100 percent of the costs associated with the salaries and benefits of the two new firefighter-paramedics, two new firefighter-EMS positions and one new fire marshal. Washougal leaders have always said they are willing to pay for their share of the new firefighters’ equipment costs, but have indicated that the city cannot afford to pay for 40 percent of the new positions’ salaries and benefits.
After the Camas councilors passed their 2019-20 budget, CWFD Fire Captain Kevin West spoke during the council’s public comment period.
“I wanted to thank you for recognizing the need for firefighters,” West said.
Read more about the city’s biennial budget in this week’s Post-Record, which publishes on Thursday, Dec. 20.