Concessions to aid Arlington’s budget

ARLINGTON — City firefighters have offered to cut their pay by 6.5 percent in order to help Arlington balance its budget.

“It’s phenomenal,” Mayor Barbara Tolbert said. “You don’t often hear about such concessions. It shows the commitment of the fire department to the safety of its citizens.”

Arlington’s preliminary 2013 budget is set to roll out next week, and the union’s offer is a step toward balancing that budget, said city finance director Jim Chase.

With property values declining again and the economy still recovering, the property tax-funded emergency medical services system was projected to be $380,000 short in 2013, Fire Chief Bruce Stedman said.

So over the summer, Stedman worked with neighboring fire districts and volunteer and fulltime firefighters to figure out a solution to the shortfall, while retaining services to the greater Arlington community and the town of Darrington.

First, Stedman and his staff reduced line items on the budget. Then the city’s partners — Fire Districts 19, 21, 24 and 25 — agreed to amend the current service contracts with the city to provide additional funding to the shared EMS program.

City fire department administrative personnel agreed to a 5 percent salary cut for the remainder of 2012 and all of 2013. Volunteer firefighters offered up a five percent cut to the stipend they get for their work. Fulltime firefighters agreed to a 6.5 percent concession.

“I asked (the union) for 5 percent, but they came back to give the additional because it meant the difference between filling a vacant fulltime position or making it just part-time,” Stedman said.

“I was inspired by how each of the players said they would help,” Stedman said. “I’ve been in the firefighting business for 35 years and I am really impressed with our guys.”

Tolbert also praised the City Council for its initiative in looking for other ways to provide the same emergency services for less money.

“With declining property values, the traditional models for funding don’t work as well,” Tolbert said. “I’m glad the council is moving forward to investigate opportunities that will allow us to be more efficient in the delivery of emergency services.”

Councilwoman Marilyn Oertle agreed.

“I appreciate that the fire union gave up what amounts to their holiday pay, but I see it as a temporary fix to a long-term problem of funding,” Oertle said. “Arlington’s sales tax revenue is stagnant and that’s not going to change soon. We need to look into forming a regional fire authority that could cut costs before we ask people for a sales tax increase.”

Stedman said that fire department employees also saved the city $15,000 by completing volunteer projects.

The fire department prepared this past spring for a training burn of an uninhabitable house at Evans Park. Phil Knepper, Steven Daggett and Kirk Normand used their off time to prepare the house for the training burn.

At Firehouse 46, Knepper, Daggett, Normand, Scott Hillis, Keegan Tachell, Alan Christou and Alex Jenness created an exercise room on their own time. Also at Firehouse 46, Jenness built shelving to organize the EMS supply room. He built the shelving at home and then installed and painted it. Dave Kraski donated the flag pole at Firehouse 46.

To prepare for the outside painting of Firehouse 47, Normand and former part-time firefighter Tim Dalton repaired dilapidated rain gutters, Stedman said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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