Northwest NEWS

December 6, 1999

Editorial

Fire commissioners feel budget is fair and accurate

   As elected officials of the Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District, our main priority is to provide our community with the most effective emergency services in terms of both efficiency and cost.

   Recently, some individuals felt it was appropriate to threaten our Board into inappropriate action concerning the Year 2000 Budget. Being unsuccessful and misinformed, they have written letters to our community papers describing inaccurate and incomplete information. It is our duty to respond with the complete and accurate facts surrounding our decisions on the Year 2000 Budget.

   By State Law, we are authorized to collect $1.50 per $1,000.00 of assessed valuation to provide emergency services. In 1989, the voters of Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District first approved an alternate, reliable source of funding called the Benefit Charge. The Benefit Charge is limited to a sixty percent total of our operating budget, a safeguard for taxpayers. In utilizing the Benefit Charge, we forfeited $.50 of the allowable $1.50 per $1,000.00. Benefit Charge re-authorization occurs every six years and must be approved by the voters.

   The Benefit Charge allows us, as elected officials, to annually adjust this charge to match our budget needs for the coming year. The voters have overwhelmingly supported this source of funding since 1989. Historically, we have held this charge well under the maximum limits allowed by law. Further, it is the intent of this current Board of Commissioners to stay at or below the rate of property taxation ($1.50 per $1,000) with this Benefit Charge, and we have.

   Over the last few years, the total rate of taxation for Woodinville residents for fire and emergency services has been the equivalent of $1.32 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. This is well below the amount approved by you, the voters. The department is also responsible for maintaining a minimum of six months' operating capital set aside for unfunded liabilities and other emergencies. This would be a fund of approximately $3.5 million. The liabilities range from apparatus and equipment replacement to non-covered insurance claims.

   In 1999, we are rapidly approaching $500,000 in unfunded liabilities and are facing more in 2000, mostly due to dry rot and mold remediation in two existing fire stations. Our reserve fund is now dangerously low and will not support many more liabilities of this nature. Additionally, we must prepare for the replacement of our ladder truck, which will be a cost approaching $1 million.

   At our October 16, 1999 annual open, public budget workshop, these and all other budget issues were discussed, debated, and checked for accuracy. One Commissioner, Dave Callon, was not present. He chose not to attend because he was running for King County Assessor and had campaign commitments. He knew well in advance of this important meeting and like past years, chose not to attend. Is this the representation he promised you when he was running for Fire Commissioner?

   Instead, at our regular Board Meeting on November 16, 1999, after resolutions concerning the Year 2000 Budget were prepared and decisions made, he petitioned the Board to pointlessly cut our budget without ever justifying it. His troupe of "concerned taxpayers" were present and gave testimony that if we did not adopt his budget proposal, they would write to the newspapers, as they have.

   What concerns us is the blatant misinformation Commissioner Callon gives his political allies to spread about the community. It is apparent Commissioner Callon is looking to further his political aspirations under the guise of cutting taxes in everything he does. He has no plan, will not listen to reason, and has an immature understanding of what is necessary to provide these vital public services. If acted upon, his actions surely would result in a reduction of fire and emergency services in the Year 2000 and beyond.

   So, facing these and other financial impacts, it was well understood by four of the five elected Board Members that in order to meet our existing service levels, we would need to raise our Benefit Charge. For the Year 2000, we will collect $1.50 per $1,000 per assessed valuations. This is allowable under State Law and is still well below the Benefit Charge maximum of sixty percent of our operating budget.

   Interestingly, this budget does not consider I-695 potential impacts, which will only reduce the amount of available revenue. Our budget reflects an approximate seven percent increase in the operating budget, which is tied mostly to increased costs for goods and services and labor costs, much like yours at home. Additionally, the Board elected to set aside sufficient funds to plan for the purchase of the ladder truck and to begin replenishment of the reserve fund.

   Every year, our Board of Commissioners holds open, public meetings to develop the budget for the coming year. This year was no different. We truly look for community input on how to best provide our services. We will not bend to recognized political strong-arming tactics provided by Commissioner Callon's troupe.

   After our combined efforts at workshops and budget sessions, not to mention the numerous hours at home, we as elected Commissioners feel our Year 2000 Budget is fair and accurate to continue our existing service levels into the coming year.

Chairman Frank Peep and Commissioners Tim Osgood, Roy Bleikamp, and Clint Olson