Lynnwood police, fire cuts not as bad as feared

LYNNWOOD — After New Year’s Eve came and went, police and fire crews in Lynnwood felt relief, and some worry.

In the midst of the fall budget debate, they were told the city by Dec. 31 could lay off up to a third of its police officers and firefighters. That didn’t quite happen.

In the police department, nine police officer positions were cut, Deputy Chief Karen Manser said. In addition, two more vacancies were frozen.

There were no layoffs because those nine officers had either retired or left for other jobs, expecting pink slips.

“We’re in a better place than where we expected to be, and we’re thankful for that,” Manser said.

Two part-time cadets were laid off. Several clerk positions were cut as well. Some of those people were laid off, while others left on their own.

The biggest visible budget cuts were to the front desk and animal control, Manser said. Hours and staffing have been reduced for both. The department now has 69 officers, 30 full-time staff and six part-timers. For 2010, they had been authorized for 80 officers, 34 civilians and 21 part-timers, but many of those positions were vacant before the budget cuts.

Still, the future is worrisome, said Officer Mark Brinkman, president of the Lynnwood Police Guild.

The department weathered the budget crisis better than expected, but the unfilled vacancies represent “a substantial amount of personnel,” he said.

The Lynnwood Fire Department is in a similar situation, Assistant Fire Chief Greg Macke said.

City Council action prevented any layoffs, but five firefighter vacancies and two civil staff vacancies were frozen, he said.

That leaves the department with 51 full-time and one part-time staff members. That includes firefighters, administration and civil staff. Altogether, they’re supposed to have 58 full-time staff and one part-timer, Macke said.

Lynnwood firefighters were grateful for the lack of layoffs but worry about maintaining services with fewer bodies, he said. If firefighters get injured or retire over the next two years, there might not be enough backup crews.

“We’re all on edge right now,” he said.

When layoffs seemed imminent, at least two Lynnwood firefighters had considered job offers elsewhere but held out, Macke said.

The department is actively looking for creative ways to cut costs, he said.

The situation was reversed for Marysville police, Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux said. Marysville needed to hire police officers to serve 19,000 new people who became part of the city during the 2009 annexation.

Since the 2010 budget crunch started, Marysville police have hired about a half-dozen cops, including one from Lynnwood, one from Monroe and two deputies from the Island County Sheriff’s Office, Lamoureux said. All the local hires had been laid off or were expecting to be laid off at their prior jobs.

Hiring local police officers who were already trained saved Marysville about $30,000 per hire, he said. The timing was a fortunate coincidence for the police department and its new officers.

Police cuts due to budget tightening perhaps were most complicated in Monroe.

In early fall, three officers received layoff notices, police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said. When the budget was adopted at year’s end, all of those officers had found jobs elsewhere. However, the city found enough money to keep one of the cop spots in its budget. That means Monroe police now need to hire an officer for a position. They’re anxious to get another cop on the street, Willis said.

Until they hire, Monroe has 30 cops, down from 33 last year. The police department has 10 civil staff, down from 12.

It was a tough, stressful winter for Monroe police as they waited for the budget negotiations to conclude. Those who still have jobs are thankful, and they’re working to move forward as a department, Willis said.

“There’s relief that it’s over,” she said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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