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.
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.