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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fire budget vote planned

Valley Fire to consider 9.8-percent increase; spending includes new station

Spokane Valley Fire Department commissioners are to conduct a final hearing Monday and take action on a 2010 budget that calls for construction of a new station.

Chief Mike Thompson said a new Station 10 at 17217 E. Sprague Ave. is the primary reason for a 9.8 percent increase from this year’s budget, from $26,857,809 to $29,501,486.

The new station is expected to cost $2.2 million. It will replace temporary quarters in a manufactured home and a detached garage.

Thompson said the new station will be similar to Station 9, which opened last December at 12121 E. 32nd Ave. Instead of two bays, though, Station 10 will have three.

“It will be able to accommodate some future growth out in that area,” he said.

The new Station 10 was to have been built this year, but commissioners put it off for a year because of the bad economy. Now, Thompson said, the department has set aside more money for the project and is ready to go.

“Our plan is that it will promote jobs,” he said. “We’ll be able to go out and contract and put some people to work.”

Fire officials hope to solicit bids in February and start construction as soon as a contract is awarded in March. The station would be ready for use in October.

That project and construction of a new Station 9, which also had been in temporary quarters, were made possible by a property tax levy lid lift voters approved in 2007.

Another new item in the proposed budget is a $40,000 expenditure to set up a swift-water rescue team.

“As the (Spokane) river becomes more active, we’re getting more rescues every year, and we don’t have any specific training to be able to deal with that at the present time,” Thompson said.

He said the money will go for training and equipment, including “dry suits,” helmets, swim fins and maybe some kayaks. The plan calls for developing a cooperative agreement with the Spokane Fire Department, which has a rescue boat.

In many cases, Spokane Valley’s rescue team would work from river banks and bridges to snag victims until a boat can reach them.

“A lot of it is rope work, being able to hold onto these people,” Thompson said.

He doesn’t know whether the program will be completely ready in time for next spring’s high water, but he hopes to get started in January and be done by the end of the year.

Next year’s budget also includes $500,000 to replace the department’s 1999 rescue truck. The one-of-a-kind vehicle carries a full complement of life-saving gear, including air-supply, extrication, trench-rescue and high-angle rescue equipment.

An all-wheel-drive staff car also is to be replaced.

The budget would provide a 2 percent across-the-board raise for the department’s 175 employees.

Only Thompson is excluded from the package. His salary will be determined by an evaluation commissioners will conduct next month.

Although the raise applies to support and command staff as well as union firefighters, Thompson said it was negotiated two years ago to bring firefighters in line with departments in Spokane, Yakima, Bellingham, Renton, Shoreline, Everett and Lakewood, as well as King County Fire District 10.

This year’s salaries range from about $30,000 for a receptionist to $151,368 for Thompson. A first-year firefighter earns $51,864.

Thompson said operating expenses generally are flat in the new budget except for increases in the maintenance shop. He said that was accomplished mainly by moving money from overfunded to underfunded categories.

One thing that helped was a 3.9-percent reduction this year in medical insurance that typically costs about $2.5 million a year.

“We’d like think we’re having an impact with our wellness program,” Thompson said. “It was just very welcome to hear that we actually had a decrease in our insurance rates for a change.”

Previously, he said, “we’d been like everybody else” with annual increases of 7 to 15 percent.

The program has been in place for three years. Besides promoting good health, it encourages employees to be “wise consumers” of medical services, Thompson said.

That’s important because the department has been self-insured since January 2006.

“It was a little bit scary when we started out (with self-insurance), but it puts us a little bit more in control of our own destiny,” Thompson said.

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