Washougal won’t add firefighters in 2019

Administrator says city cannot afford to hire four more

The city of Washougal will not add funding for new firefighters in its 2019 budget.

Washougal City Administrator David Scott said Tuesday the city simply cannot afford it.

The decision puts a damper on a recent Camas proposal to add four firefighters to the Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CWFD) in 2019.

The hiring of four new firefighters was projected to cost Camas, which pays 60 percent of the CWFD costs, about $251,000 and Washougal about $168,000 in 2019.

Scott said the city of Washougal’s preliminary budget for 2019 includes no increases for supplies and services in the general fund departments.

“That is like a budget cut,” he said. “The cost of supplies and services goes up, because of inflationary pressures. We have less buying power for our general fund programs.”

“We talked to Camas,” Scott added. “We need to work together, to look at the future of the fire department and the needs in operations and capital facilities as we move forward together and figure out a plan to deal with all of those issues and increasing cost pressures. I believe we have a mutual commitment to work on that over the next period of time.”

During its Sept. 17 workshop, the Camas City Council talked about options for bringing in new revenue, including a $20 vehicle registration fee and potential utility taxes. Camas is in the midst of its biennial budget process, and options for funding the addition of four new firefighters have not yet been discussed.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said Tuesday, referring to the city’s proposal for adding new firefighters. “We’re committed to trying to figure out how to keep moving the department forward. They (the city of Washougal) have different needs than we have sometimes, so we gotta figure out a way to blend those together.”

Camas Mayor Pro Tem Don Chaney said, ultimately, it’s now up to Camas to decide whether they want to fully fund the firefighter additions.

“I don’t have a sense of where the council might be,” Chaney said. “The challenge might be how we reconcile the difference.”

Chaney said he understands the revenue challenges facing the city of Washougal and that Camas was in a similar situation when it came to increasing staffing levels in one department over another.

“Like everybody, we’re challenged with priorities in other departments,” Chaney said of Camas. “Police, public works, everybody is under pressure to provide the service level we’re accustomed to. We shouldn’t compel our partners to do something they’re not willing or able to do.”

The Camas-Washougal Fire Department has 48 firefighters. Questions arose about the number of fire staff per engine following a Feb. 14, 2018, fire at a residence in northwest Camas. CWFD Engine 43 arrived at the Feb. 14 fire scene carrying only two firefighters — a state workplace safety violation that resulted in a $4,800 fine for the city.

Firefighters and their supporters have since shown up to several Camas City Council meetings to push for an increase in CWFD staffing levels. Meanwhile, business owners and residents throughout Camas-Washougal have shown support by placing “I’m 4 More Firefighters” signs in their store windows and front lawns.

Washougal Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg’s presentation of preliminary fire budget items during the Monday, Sept. 24, Washougal City Council workshop showed an increase in that city’s total fire budget, shifting from $3.321 million in 2018 to $3.337 million in 2019.

The $160,000 increase includes a 3-percent cost of living adjustment for CWFD firefighters. The city will fund the CWFD’s $147,260 cost of purchasing approximately 37 self-contained breathing apparatus and turnouts with reserve funds.

Camas City Council is expected to hear the mayor’s proposed budget for 2019-20 at its Monday, Oct. 1 regular meeting, while the Washougal City Council will review Washougal’s proposed 2019 budget on Monday, Oct. 22.

Post-Record reporter Cooper Green contributed to this article.