Marysville Fire Department forced to cut back

MARYSVILLE — The Marysville Fire District is cutting back spending to stay out of the hole.

The district has been hit hard by declining property values in its coverage area, Fire Chief Greg Corn said. Most of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes, and the housing market isn’t making much of a recovery.

The district made its first major round of cuts in April, including layoffs. Lost were three firefighters, four staffers and $590,000 in operations and capital spending.

The district offered early retirement packages but got no takers, Corn said.

He’s since promised the ranks there won’t be any more layoffs this year. It was hard for them to watch people walk out the door. Morale took a hit.

District leaders are working with the city and the firefighters union to shore up the budget, he said. The operating budget for 2011 now stands at $14.2 million, down from $15.4 million.

Before the cuts, budget projections showed the district could be $4.7 million in the red by 2016, Corn said. The costs for supplies and labor will go up, even if revenue keeps going down.

The district commissioners saw the gap growing, he said. They wanted to address it quickly. They were worried about both next year’s budget and the district’s long-term future.

The Marysville Fire District covers about 54 square miles, including the city of Marysville, where it provides fire protection services through a long-standing interlocal agreement. The district employs 89 full-time staff, including firefighters, and 35 part-time firefighters.*

The city matches the district’s levy rates so people pay the same for fire protection regardless of where they live, Corn said.

The district is as dedicated as ever to providing fire protection, he said. However, fewer bodies and less money means other services will have to be reduced.

They won’t be able to do as much public education and outreach, he said. They also plan to send fewer rigs to routine fire and medical calls.

The firefighters union will work with the district and the city to identify additional cuts that won’t hurt staffing or service, Union President Jason Schoonover said. They’re working to come up with options.

It’s a collaborative effort, he said.

“At this point, everything’s on the table, and we’re working toward short-term and long-term solutions to stabilize the budget,” he said.

The city of Marysville was sad to see the cuts to the fire district, but city leaders recognized the need to match spending with revenue, city administrator Gloria Hirashima said. They’ve had to make painful cuts themselves in recent years.

The city representatives on the district’s board wanted to look ahead to avoid a crisis, she said.

“I know they struggled with making those tough decisions, but they’re trying to be proactive,” she said.

The fire district budget discussions for 2012 are set to begin in July, Corn said. A hiring freeze is in place, meaning any new vacancies won’t be backfilled.

*Correction, May 31 2011: The number of employees at the Marysville Fire District was incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story.

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