Fire agency’s board passes $5.4 million spending plan

Vashon Island Fire & Rescue will see slightly less tax revenue next year but will still meet its operational needs and complete some needed projects, while pushing less important budget items into 2014.

“We’re doing fine, but we’re not doing great,” said Chief Hank Lipe in an interview last week. “We’re still meeting our highest priorities.”

The agency’s $5.4 million spending plan, passed by the board at its Nov. 27 meeting, includes $54,000 to upgrade communications technology in emergency response vehicles, something Lipe said has been on the to-do list for several years.

It also contains $30,000 for work on VIFR buildings, including the replacement of the roof on the Bennedsen House, repairs to the main station’s roof and work on the satellite station in Tahlequah, a property that was recently gifted to VIFR.

The department will hold off next year on two significant needs — repairs to the driveway at the main station and the replacement of the chief’s vehicle. Both items were originally scheduled for this year, Lipe said. However, partway through the year three paid responders went on leave for injuries and illness. Overtime pay to other employees skyrocketed, Lipe said, so he chose to freeze all discretionary spending.

Lipe said he’s now pushing the items back another year because funds are tight and work on the district’s buildings is more urgent.

“The facility improvements we have to get done, those are the priorities,” he said.

The budget also allows for a $750,000 renovation of VIFR’s association building across the street from the main station on Bank Road, a project that will be funded entirely by King County. Earlier this year the county decided to move Vashon’s small courthouse and sheriff’s office substation to the little-used building, paying for its renovation and a small monthly lease. In return, VIFR and other community groups will have access to the building. The fire station will pay to outfit the building with furniture and some technology.

Finally, under the 2013 budget, neither Lipe nor Assistant Chief George Brown will receive performance raises. Both will receive cost-of-living salary increases guaranteed to all administrative staff at the department — eight people including the chief and assistant chief — per district policy.

The exact increase will be determined by Consumer Price Index numbers released early next year, but will probably be around 2.5 percent, Lipe said. After such an increase, Lipe could make up to $131,500 and Brown could make up to $121,000.

Lipe was last given a performance raise in 2009, when his salary was increased by 11 percent, something board members said reflected his work to turn the department around during his first year on the job. Last year the board voted to give Brown a performance raise after an extensive third-party review and salary comparison.

This year there wasn’t much leeway in the budget to give raises, said board chair Candy McCullough, adding that the board was happy with Lipe’s compensation package.

Lipe agreed.

“I told the board I was comfortable where I am, and I think I’m in with my peers around the region,” he said.


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