Fire budget process is ‘on track’

Eastside Fire and Rescue’s budget procedure is right on track, Finance Chief Dave Gray told the board of directors Tuesday.

Eastside Fire and Rescue’s budget procedure is right on track, Finance Chief Dave Gray told the board of directors Tuesday.

The budget process received a bit of a shake-up earlier this summer when several cities that contract with Eastside Fire & Rescue requested that the department cap its overall budget at a 5 percent increase. The letter from the cities suggested that in order to do this, the department cut at least 5 percent from the non-salary budget.

In response to the requests from Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend officials, department officials presented a list of areas that would most likely be cut to the board of directors. The list did not give specifics that would be seen in a line item budget, something that the board typically does not see until the fall.

Board members will be given a more detailed budget in September and then, after some more number checking and modifications, a full line-item budget is typically prepared by November.

“The partners know basically by September what they will pay,” Gray said.

However the board learned some of the figures earlier than normal this year after they voted on whether or not to accept the cap requested by the cities.

“The flow got somewhat switched following the letters from the cities,” Gray said.

To try to meet the request of city leaders, the department really had to clamp down on the budget since most of the overall budget is compromised of salary and benefits. So, unless a position is cut, the budget isn’t easy to reduce.

That left the non-salary budget, which is only about 20 percent of the overall budget. Reaching the goal of 5 percent meant cutting 10 percent from the non-salary portion — or about $300,000.

Chief Gray presented to the board on Tuesday night an estimate of what programs and areas would take what cuts.

The estimates were in response to some directors’ request that more information on specific program cuts be presented.

Cuts were across the board, from supplies and maps, to the potential for whole programs to be cut, including volunteer academies and the technical rescue team. Some training will be delayed and a software update from Windows Office 2003 to 2007 has been postponed.

In many cases, the changes would also mean that the department could maintain its current levels, but no additional training or replacement would be available, said Jeff Griffin, deputy chief of operations.

“We aren’t advocating these cuts,” Griffin said. “They are horrendous.”

He added that the department had already scaled down its “wish list” budget before the city officials even sent their letters. That budget proposed a 7-8 percent increase.

The cuts suggested on Tuesday’s meeting are not set in stone. Department officials and board members still have plenty of time to reevaluate what level of cuts are feasible before the budget is presented in November.

“The 5 percent is a wonderful goal, but it is a goal,” Director Dee Williams said. “It may be impossible.”