County Fire District 8 faces budget deficit

Spokane County Fire District 8 commissioners are considering two budgets for 2013, and both have the district running a deficit.

The district has faced declining property tax revenues for years. In November 2011, a maintenance and operations levy failed after getting 51 percent approval. It required a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

The district made cuts after the levy failed, including delaying the purchase of new trucks, leaving vacant positions unfilled and trimming the training budget.

The district’s revenue dropped $260,000 lower than expected in 2012, Fire Chief Bill Walkup said during a special commissioners meeting Monday.

“I didn’t project it would be down 6.5 percent this year,” he said. “I thought it would be flat or maybe 1 percent down and we could absorb that.”

But home values seem to be finally recovering, Walkup said. “I feel very optimistic we are turning the corner,” he said.

“There’s got to be a bottom someplace,” said Commissioner Dennis Ross.

The district is projecting revenues of $4,394,594 for 2013. The worst-case scenario budget has expenses at $4.7 million. Walkup said the district is exploring making changes to its health insurance plan that would drop expenses to $4.5 million. “We’ve been looking at alternative health care plans,” he said. “We believe there are some substantial savings.”

The district is looking at a variety of options to fill the hole in the budget, including using reserves. Many more cuts are planned as well. “We tried to reduce conference travel and education by 10 percent in all areas,” Walkup said.

The salaries of nonunion staff members will not increase. A new paramedic/firefighter commissioners have discussed hiring is not in the budget. Many line items have been reduced by a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars. “We continue to make substantial cuts in all areas of the budget,” Walkup said.

While some parts of the budgets show increasing costs, it’s mostly for things out of the district’s control. Costs for unemployment insurance and other benefits are up. The amount budgeted for dispatch services is going up even though the rate per call is staying the same because the number of calls the district is responding to is rising, Walkup said. “It’s just going to continue to go up,” he said.

Ross questioned why the budget included $8,000 for supplies for the maintenance shop when in recent years it was only $3,500. “If we don’t have any big numbers to justify the eight (thousand), maybe we could go back to the $3,500,” he said.

Walkup said the district has a lengthy list of needed repair jobs that it has been working through. Recently tires were replaced on two trucks for $2,100 each and a computer in a fire engine was replaced for $3,500. “I know we didn’t finish the list,” he said.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for the next commissioners meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Station 82, 12100 E. Palouse Highway. Walkup said he would ask the commissioners to approve the worst-case budget following the hearing.

Fire District 8 covers a large area south of the Spokane and Spokane Valley city limits. It operates using a mix of volunteer and paid staff.

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