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Woodinville fire board adopts 1997 budget, lowers tax rate

Baum confronts Callon

board meeting by Jeff Switzer
WOODINVILLE--The Woodinville Fire District Board recently adopted the district's 1997 operational budget, dropped the taxing rate, and dipped into its reserve fund, allocating $5.7 million on operations with $280,000 set aside for depreciation and contingencies.
   Sixty-two percent of the budget goes towards salaries and wages for district employees ($3,450,582), $90,000 for the support/volunteer firefighters, plus $24,000 for the five fire commissioners.
   "I feel very comfortable and confident about the numbers in this budget," said Commissioner Dave Callon. "There is not a lot of fat in there."
   Callon and Chair Don Leggett have said the board has preliminarily agreed that the $4 million reserve fund, set aside so the voters wouldn't need to be approached for additional money for capital expenses, was too large a balance, and a more appropriate balance would be half of a year's operating budget, or $2.5 million.
   To lower the reserve fund, the board requested $4.4 million be collected from property taxes, $3.26 million from regular taxes, and $1.14 million from the benefits charge. That translates into $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, $0.15 less than the $1.50 total charge with the benefit charge, effectively reducing taxes in exchange for a $500,000 dip into the reserve fund and its accumulated interest.
   "This is a no-frills budget," said Leggett. "It was decided that this would be an opportunity to both lower the reserve account and continue to provide the same high degree of service that we have in the past."
   The district will collect $3.26 million from the regular taxing district and $1.14 million from the benefits charge. Those dollars come from the district's assessed valuation, estimated in 1997 to be $3.26 billion, up from $3.13 billion in 1996, and covering 36 square miles and 45,000 people.

Budget highlights:

When will the bond moneys be expended?
   Not included in this outline of the budget are capital improvements, save some vehicle upgrades. A bond passed by voters included purchase and construction of a downtown station, plans for which are still on hold because of the threat of costly litigation should the district attempt to build on agricultural land as proposed.
   The district recently purchased two fire engines under the bond funds and agreement, but a plan for expending the remaining dollars has not been updated since 1995, extends only until 1997, and still shows the construction of the station occurring in 1996 in spite of delays.
   "My goal is to review and update (the capital budget) by the end of the first week in December," said Chief Steve Smith, who is still meeting the challenge of the transition from former Chief Jim Davis' administration while dealing with day-to-day running of district business.
   The final numbers on the Station 35 remodel at Cottage Lake should be in soon, he said, with a possibility for reallocating any additional funds towards the inflation attributed to waiting on the new downtown station.
   "It's an ideal place for a station, but we can't wait forever," he said.

Baum confronts Callon
   At the Nov. 5 meeting, former Citizen Advisory Committee Chair Mary Baum confronted Commissioner Callon regarding information in his personnel file, dating from the time when he was a volunteer with the district. Baum told the board and those present at the public meeting the nature and some detail about the contents of the file, though the information has not been legally released.
   It is the position of the Fire District that releasing the file may violate Callon's right to privacy and set a dangerous precedent for future requests of personnel files. Rather than release the information or declare it exempt from public disclosure laws, the district is waiting for a King County Superior Court judge's decision on Dec. 16, when both Callon and Baum, who have been named in the case, can argue their case before the judge.
   In addition to Callon's file, Baum has allegedly requested other personnel files and test scores.

Strategic planning process on the horizon
   The Fire District has hired a consultant and will be approaching the citizenry on how to improve the fire service to the area via their strategic planning process. This process will define the goals, vision, philosophy, and places for improvement, and translate those into a working plan.
   Community leaders are being chosen to select a citizen advisory panel to participate in this process, with more information available next week.