NWFR commissioners OK 2012 budget

Published on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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North Whatcom Fire and Rescue is expected to receive approximately $5.3 million in property taxes for 2012, a decrease of about $300,000 from last year.

Those numbers are according to the fire district’s 2012 budget, which fire commissioners unanimously passed at their December 15 meeting. District chief Tom Fields said assessed property values may be down from 2011, but are expected to increase beyond 2012.

“We are at the bottom now, but we will start seeing some improvements in assessed values,” Fields said.

The district expects to take in approximately $7.5 million in 2012 and spend about $7.1 million. In addition to tax revenue, the district will bring in approximately $2 million in payments from District 4 and ambulance service fees, Fields explained.

Fields said the budget has not changed much since last year, but each division within the district has been asked to cut its individual budget by 2.5 percent. The district’s union-represented firefighters will receive a 2 percent pay increase while one administrative staff person will be laid off.

In 2011, North Whatcom signed a three-year contract with its unionized workers whereby employees agreed to forgo a pay raise in 2011, but get an increase for 2012. Fields said the union-represented employees agreed to pay a portion of their dependents’ healthcare costs, which they never have done before.

Total employee costs for 2012 are estimated to be $5.7 million, or about 75 percent of total operating costs. North Whatcom has a total of 163 employees, with 60 full-time firefighters and 40 part-time firefighters making up the bulk of that number, Fields explained.

The district has no trouble paying day-to-day operating costs, but Fields said saving tax revenue for future capital improvements is proving difficult. For example, money needs to be put aside for the eventual replacement of the district’s ambulances, but decreases in property tax revenue are preventing this.

North Whatcom replaced one ambulance each year in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the next replacement is scheduled for 2016, Fields said. The district staggered the replacements on purpose so all three ambulances would not have to be replaced at once. The district’s ambulances typically rack up 25,000 miles per year and can cost between $135,000 and $190,000 to replace.