Opinion

Fire commissioners should take a close look at their pay | Editorial

We have a modest proposal for Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s board of commissioners.

We think the five-member board should do all it can to reduce its per diem costs and put the money it saves into projects that would help it reduce response time, brace for a potential reduction in the countywide EMS levy or cover the costs of other important needs in the department.

We realize $20,000 — the amount the board members earned last year in per diem payments — is not a lot of money. But what if the board shaved $10,000 a year off of that amount? Surely, Fire Chief Hank Lipe could find some good uses for that money. Most of our public institutions are hurting right now, and Vashon’s fire department, which has struggled to reduce response times to the outer reaches of the Island and to bring active volunteers into its ranks, must also have unmet needs.

The board could start this effort by having someone else, with a little more time on his or her hands, review the vouchers. Dave Hoffmann’s work schedule is such that he can’t review the vouchers before the commissioners’ meeting, forcing him to go in on a separate day for a review that sometimes takes 30 minutes. It’s an approach that routinely costs taxpayers $180 in per diem costs — $90 for his 30-minute review and another $90 for the hour-long board meeting a day or two later.

But if another commissioner took on that task, reviewing vouchers right before the board meeting, the per diem — by definition, payment for one day’s worth of fire commissioner business — would only cost $90.

Another money-saving measure would be to have only one commissioner review vouchers. Last year, Ron Turner sometimes shared the task with Hoffmann, turning the review into one that cost taxpayers $180. We think that, too, is steep, especially for a department that recently hired an outside CPA to also review its expenditures.

We put our public trust in these commissioners. We expect them to pay close attention to the department, its budget and how the staff is handling the tax dollars we invest in them and their work. Indeed, the board reviews these vouchers to make sure that the $50 spent to buy toilet paper at Costco was an allowable expenditure.

We urge them to take that same eagle-eyed approach to their own spending habits. As Bob Hennessey pointed out in The Beachcomber’s story on this issue, symbolism matters hugely in politics. When commissioners take per diems for 30 minutes of work, they’re making a statement we trust they don’t really intend to make.

 

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