By Mike Taggart and Martha Martin, Guest Columnists
Once again, it’s time to present our citizens with East County Fire & Rescue’s “State of the District” report.
Our five-member ECFR Board of Commissioners, consisting of two women and three men with various experience, represents the diversity of our district.
There has been no shortage of actions, events, small speed bumps and progress to report.
One event was a brief “blip” during our first year of sharing Fire Chief Swinhart with Camas-Washougal Fire Department. He was out because of illness, which gave all of us the opportunity to observe how well everyone pitched in to make things continue to work.
We are excited to get our new fire engine, which will soon be on its way to ECFR. This engine was purchased without bonding additional tax dollars to citizens.
The Board completed its adoption of the budget for 2018, with the total amount less than the 2017 budget. Cost containment continues to be a focus. District dollars continue to be set aside for unexpected and necessary future costs.
A long-term budget forecast was prepared and presented to the Board and ECFR members, indicating the fact that, unless revenue is increased, a structural deficit will likely exist starting in late 2020. Budget cuts alone will not be enough to offset expenditures associated with projected increases in labor costs and future apparatus and equipment replacement.
Structural deficits are of concern for both ECFR and our immediate neighbor, Camas-Washougal Fire District. Discussion between agencies has begun regarding the next direction for the future of both agencies. Driving factors include rising costs for all fire agencies and a desire to continue with the current level of quality services.
Related to this, a recent analysis of the current Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for Camas, Washougal and ECFR indicated that the current system is the best, with no changes recommended at this time. However, future recommendations are for continued consolidations of services between CWFD and ECFR, and the further recommendation of the formation of a Fire District for all agencies.
Commissioners and staff have been reviewing and updating policies — a process that has not been done since 2007 for most policies. This provides an opportunity for the current Board to learn about policy making and discover what policies ECFR has, and saves the district tax money by doing it in-house, as opposed to utilizing a policy service, which could cost $15,000 or more.
One policy that the Board has updated is the Discrimination and Harassment Policy. The Board now requires that all members of ECFR receive annual, certified, in-house training to educate and prevent any on-the-job harassment. Members will learn what harassment is, how to recognize it, and how to report it to their supervisor.
To help move these and other projects forward, the Board held monthly — recently changed to quarterly — planning workshops. Open to the public and all members of ECFR, the meetings are intended to promote free-flowing discussion and clear communication while expediting the implementation of new ideas. The goal of these sessions is to allow district processes to run more smoothly and efficiently.
The Board approved the purchase of a new accounting system, which our support staff has been utilizing to pay our bills in-house instead of using the county’s system. This has been a cost saving to our district and allows us to make payments more quickly. Generating reports for the state auditor during audits also will be much easier for future audits.
The Board approved a tuition reimbursement program to provide an incentive in the recruitment of interns to the district. It has been a popular program.
Our Open House this summer was a success (see photos at ecfr.us). Staff put together an excellent layout and program, including an antique fire engine. Our event was done in conjunction with our neighbor, the Port of Camas-Washougal, as well as other local agencies.
Moving into 2018, Commissioner Mike Taggart will continue to be the Board chair, and Commissioner Martha Martin will continue as vice chair. The Board will investigate additional shared services with CWFD, as we move forward with our renewed three-year interlocal agreement, which shares a fire chief between CWFD and ECFR.
We will continue to update the current Strategic Plan, add our new fire engine to the current fleet of apparatus, and continue staff and Board discussion regarding the best use for Station 95, which was utilized during the summer heat wave as a cooling station. Dr. Rebecca Von Duering. with the Washougal School District, presented an informational overview of a proposal from the WSD Pathways Program regarding the leasing of Station 95 to the Pathways program. The program provides continuing education for adults with developmental disabilities, and station 95 would provide a variety of facilities that would enable the administration of the curriculum.
Finally, in 2018, we need to look carefully toward the next two to three years and focus on increasing our revenue sources to avoid loss of service and coverage. Working with the chiefs and staff members, the Board will explore both tax-based and non-tax-based options to maintain the District’s commitment to providing the citizens of East County with exceptional fire and EMS services.
Columnists Mike Taggart and Martha Martin are both members of the East County Fire & Rescue Board of Commissioners. Taggart is ECFR Board chair and Martin is ECFR Board vice chair. For more information, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or visit www.ecfr.us.