Langley, WA – The Board of Fire Commissioners for South Whidbey Fire/EMS met to discuss the 2020 Budget for the agency. Topping the list of discussion items were challenges to service, increasing costs due to inflation, and replacing aging apparatus.
The fire district continues to see call volumes increase an average of 10 percent a year. Historically, South Whidbey Fire/EMS has relied on volunteers to respond to calls. The agency lost 30 percent of its emergency responders since the last recession. The number has held steady since that time, but volunteers are difficult to retain due to high call volumes and the cost of living on the island. Often, the agency relies on mutual aid from neighboring fire districts, which takes longer to reach people in an emergency.
More calls mean added costs, and inflation has impacted the agency’s budget. The fire district is limited to a one percent revenue increase per year. However, inflation for the area has averaged 2-3 percent. This translates to cost increases ranging from 2.5-17 percent in most budget areas.
Aging apparatus also is an issue. The fire district’s community insurance rating was downgraded last year as a result of staffing and apparatus deficiencies. This rating is linked to how much home and business owners pay in insurance premiums.
“We take excellent care of our fire engines to extend their usable lives,” said Fire Chief H.L. “Rusty” Palmer. “However, it’s time to replace some that are hurting our community insurance rating.”
At the budget meeting, Chief Palmer presented the idea of asking community members to consider a fire levy lid lift sometime in 2020. He recommended a 30-cent lid lift to hire up to eight emergency personnel and replace aging apparatus.
The positions would be cross-trained as firefighters and emergency medical technicians to provide a higher level of service. Due to its aging population, 80 percent of the calls received by South Whidbey Fire/EMS are for emergency medical service. A portion of the revenue from the lid lift also would purchase replacement apparatus with cash as opposed to financing these positions, which costs taxpayers more.