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UPLACE: Support West Pierce Fire & Rescue levy

Letter by Dixie L. Harris, University Place on Aug. 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm with 14 Comments »
August 4, 2011 1:37 pm

University Place always prioritizes and supports what we value. When our recreation, schools, police or fire department needs us, we are there. Why does our community support these entities? We trust that they clearly understand what our community identifies as being important. They continue to provide the level of servies that we desire, with an open door policy to the public of sensible, reliable and dependable fiscal responsibility.

The fire department supports our events through sponsorship of teams and scholarships, as well as attendance and participation for Duck Daze, UP Festival and Christmas Tree Lighting just to name a few. They have always been there when we need them, way beyond the call of duty.

In some way we have all been touched by our fire department. We say “YES” to things we value in our community and one of those has always been and will always be our fire department.

Leave a comment Comments → 14
  1. Curmudgeon48 says:

    Dixie…your plea for fire district support reflects an abiding trust in local government. The fire department is without doubt a community supporter, and they are good people. But after 15 years of city government gone astray, with a failed Town Center, and $50 million debt, it is time to trust with some vigilance…show me the financial specifics.

    The fire district has been repeatedly asked to share its budget information showing its operational expenses, salaries and benefits, and salary growth trends. Why does UP need two co-located fire stations. The State Auditor’s report does not answer these questions. As a public entity, why is the fire district afraid to post their budget data? The information is needed so the public can decide if fire district priorities and expenses are consistent with public need.

    UP residents are good people too, but they are suffering harsh economic realities. 10% of the County’s workforce is unemployed. The consumer price index has been negative or flat for three years – seniors in our community have not received a single cost of living increase since 2008. Home values have declined 12.5%. UP already has the highest property taxes in Pierce County at $14.95 per thousand. The average income in UP is only $52,197.

    Comments on previous letters concerning the district’s excess levy request have cited an average annual fire district salary & benefits cost of $125,000, with “deferred” compensation and district consolidation benefits amounting to less that 5% of their total budget. Is the district using funds to procure a fire boat? If the main cost drivers have to do with protecting Western State, the Lakewood Mall, and Chambers Bay golf course, how much are these properties being assessed for fire protection services.

    Failing the proposed excess levy will not eliminate the fire district, but it may cause the district to become more transparent in their operations and more forthcoming with fiscal justification for the services the public says it needs.

  2. Sorry Dixie, but I agree with everything Curmudgeon48 has to say. When only Lakewood residents were able to vote on merging with UP Fire that had higher taxes written all over it.

  3. itwasntmethistime says:

    I’m pretty sure that many months ago I read that UP had all of it’s youth sports programs on the chopping block due to financial issues. So, no, UP doesn’t always prioritize and support what the community wants. I never understood the math. Let’s see… roughly 12 kids per team, 2 teams paying at once, divided by 8 games… works out to $150 that the city collects from parents for each t-ball game. Assuming the fields are already paid for by the parks deparment or school district because they are there whether they are used for a t-ball league or not, how can it cost so much more than $150 per game to organize the league and supply an umpire?

    The suspect math continues.

  4. chhannon says:

    Curmudgeon48 – Glad to see your comments. The WP Fire Department is asking for more funding from the taxpayers when there is not a revenue problem. What they have is a cost problem. WP Fire gets their funding through three primary sources, the Expense, EMS and M&O levy. Many other fire districts in the county (e.g. Gig Harbor) do not have an M&O levy; they only have the first two. Why are these other departments able to get by with less funding than WP Fire? It’s because WP Fire is trying to build an “elite” department where that level of service is not needed. For example, they have a dive team – doesn’t the Sherriff’s department already have one? They won a Federal Port Security grant for a fire boat. What port are they securing? Who will pay for the ongoing training, staffing and operational costs for this boat – we will. WP Fire needs to learn to live within their means, just like every other public entity. Scaring the public with threats of decreased levels of service is disingenuous – they are simply trying to protect the status quo, along with their outragous salaries!

  5. speakinmymind says:

    chhannon- You mention other fire departments in the area (i.e. Gig Harbor) are doing the same job for less. For a moment, lets compare apples to oranges. Gig Harbor has 9 fire stations and only 5 of them are staffed. West Pierce Fire has 7 stations and all 7 of them are staffed. Gig Harbor Fire runs about 4,600 calls each year and West Pierce Fire runs about 14,700 calls a year. Gig Harbor Fire staffs several stations with only 2 persons per engine. West Pierce staffs all engines with 3 perons per engine.

    Here is a BIG one: When Gig Harbor Fire medic units transport a citizen they get a bill for the transport (somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 – 1,400 dollars). West Pierce residents don’t pay a dime when they get transported. WPFR bills their insurance company and after that, the organization eats the bill.

    Lets get your facts straight and start comparing apples to apples before you start “stating the facts”

    -just speakinmymind

  6. speakinmymind says:

    Curmudgeon48 – You ask about Western State Hospital, lets remember that this is a government organization and pays differently than a private organization. Western State has signed an ongoing contract for services for both EMS services and fire protection. This number was arrived at by figuring out what it costs to run a fire call and a EMS call, then multiplying that cost by the number of calls run. They pay their fair share and exactly what they should.

    – just speakinmymind

  7. Curmudgeon48 says:

    So speakinmymind…you seemed to be in agreement that the fire district should provide some facts? Where is the district budget? What are the salary cost trends and how do they stack up against the current community economic conditions? Why do we have 2 co-located fire stations in UP? Why do we need a fire boat? If the average salary/benefits information is correct at $125,000/annum, do you believe the salaries levels are warranted? Why are fire district costs so high relative to all other municipal services. Is the fire district organizational structure and shift coverage reasonable, or is it a self-serving, empire growing beyond the community’s ability to support? Where are the comparative financial, service, and size statistics for similar-sized residential communities that support the districts excess levy request?

    As you say, let’s get some straight facts and compare oranges to oranges. I requested and was promised copies of the West Pierce district budgets now over 2 weeks ago. I guess district service doesn’t include providing information on where our tax money is going in this public agency.

    If you have some actual factual knowledge to share on these subjects, please share them, because our elected Fire Commissioners, the Fire Chief, and Financial Director sure aren’t providing much information.

  8. speakinmymind says:

    Curmudgeon – I would agree with you 100% that two fire stations mearly 2 or so blocks away from each other is a silly idea. I’ll just say it – it’s plain stupid. But I do have a few questions for you that I do not know the answers to – food for thought we’ll say.

    1. Does the call volume in UP require two fire stations no matter where they are located? Lets just say that the plan was to build one closer to the golf course but the budget was too tight to do so. Would this be more acceptable to you? I would think that UP shouldn’t be covered by just one engine (one station) as when they are out the next closest station in WPFR is that one on Steilacoom Blvd. I believe that we all pay too much in taxes to have help coming from that far away AND I think that the Steilacoom station is the busiest one in Lakewood.

    2. I’m not sure about the average salary being 125,000 a year but I will say this. I think all of the firefighters belong to a union, that being the case they use collective bargening. So wouldn’t firefighters in Gig Harbor or Central Pierce make a similar amount? Maybe that’s what it costs to have these professionals on the streets?

    3. I believe this number of 125,000 if it’s correct would refer to their total cost of contribution, NOT how much money they take home every year. So once you added things in there like medical insurance (which I’ll bet for firefighters is way high), retirement, sick leave, uniforms, etc. that actual dollar amount is far less.

    4. I don’t think that one can compare the fire department to other municipal services and ask why it’s more expensive. I think that fire and police are comperable, but you cannot compare them to the roads or parks departments. The folks that are firefighters are very well educated, highly skilled professionals. I don’t think the guy mowing the lawns at the local park has what it takes to be a firefighter – if he did, why wouldn’t he do that and make far more? I believe that you get what you pay for and when it comes to fire and police I only want the best of the best.

    -just speakinmymind

  9. harleyrider1 says:

    Duck Daze? Really? That’s the reasoning?

    Spend, spend, spend.

    Eliminate the take home cars for the fire department. How riidiculous. When police officers leave their homes in their marked cars, we benefit. Right away, there is a presence.

    Can we show time after time – a pattern – where if the chiefs and their aids did not have $50,000 take home cars and taxpayer gas, that fires raged and firefighters did not know what to do? Please. Spend, spend, spend.

  10. Well said speakinmymind

  11. speakinmymind says:

    Harleyrider1 – “Can we show time after time – a pattern – where if the chiefs and their aids did not have $50,000 take home cars and taxpayer gas….”

    Obviously you have not gone to a public fire comissioner meeting in some time so see how your tax dollars are spent, nor are you actually stating any facts.

    In January of 2008, seeing where the economy was heading and trying to curb costs ahead of time, then Lakewood Fire Department (now West Pierce) did away with all take home cars for all chief officers (aids have never had them, not sure how you arrived at this incorrect factoid). Cars that still had a “reasonable life” according to the mechanics were kept in the motorpool while those that did not were sold at auction with the proceeds being put back into the general fund.

    Support vehicles (non fire engines, medic units, ladder trucks, battalion command vehicles) are only driven during the duty day for official business.

    Lastly, I have yet to see anyone at the fire district driving a “$50,000 vehicle.” All vehicles are purchased with a huge government discount and they are all the very base model available.

    Lets please keep the facts truthful and factual,

    Just speakin my mind

  12. TomTuttlefromTacoma says:

    MY OH MY REALLY !!! This is what you have come down to? Crumm. Are you serious?? Really?? Your battle is with a group of people who do what ( I’m just guessing here ) you would never be able to do, or would not want to do. The people who spend 1/3 of their life away from their family. The people who spend quite a few holidays away from their family. The men and women who dare to enter conditions that you cannot begin to imagine. Really??? Crumm. How about you vent your anger against a real problem. The people who put us in this horrible financial crisis. How about we complain about a Congressman who if he/she makes it on time to cast one vote, is allowed to collect a pension for the rest of their lives. ONE Vote. That is it. The people who have automatic pay raises that they voted in. The people who will be able to collect SS along with that fat pension. Those are the people you need to be mad at. Not the Men and Women of our first responder group(s) Instead of trying to stop a much needed service, why not focus your energy on the people who are on vacation right now ( paid for by you and I ) while the economy and the country is caving in. Why not focus on the Olympia clan who allows Illegal immigrants the chance with out question, to get a State Drivers license so they can go and collect services that they will never pay into? Speakin. Thank you for calling out the rider. Lets get factual. Just because your anoymous here, don’t throw out silly numbers and fake facts. Nicely done Speakin!

  13. itwasntmethistime says:

    “the people who spend 1/3 of their life away from their family” — WOW, you are arrogant. Everybody who works full time spends 1/3 of their time away from their family. You need to wean yourself from the union teat that has you brainwashed that you are the most valuable asset to society, all the while being the most unappreciated.

    By the way, it is probable that you spend MORE waking hours with your family than most people because of your overnight shifts.

  14. TomTuttlefromTacoma says:

    Related itemsA firefighter died after falling through the roof of a burning apartment building in southwest Dallas on Sunday.

    The firefighter was identified as Lt. Todd Krodle, 41, according to WFAA-TV (Channel 8). The 17-year veteran of the department was married and had two children.

    The fire began around 4 p.m. at the Ridgecrest Terrace Apartments in the 5600 block of Plum Grove Lane.

    Firefighters say the fire, which occurred in a bottom-floor unit, appears to be accidental.

    Another unrelated fire destroyed a single unit in the same apartment complex early Sunday morning.

    Hmmm. I wonder now if this Lt from Dallas Tx should take a pay cut, stop sucking on the union teat, and pass up a few more holidays with his family.

    Itwasntme. Your right. It wasn’t you, and it wasn’t me either thank God. I can only pray for his family and his co-workers. I can only pray that their citizenry doesn’t have the same mentality we have here.

    You obviously did not read my post entirely. I am saying to you and EVERYONE, the problem is not the public servant. The problem is the politicians. Just today on the local news they did a story about OUR legislature. They ( the politicians ) voted overwhelmingly to add pay cuts to State Employees. BUT. When they were asked to do the same, only 8 stepped up to ” do their part” Not until the Olympian reported this did anyone else step up to ” do their Part” Get It??

    BTW. As a small business owner of a coffee shop to be, Im looking for cow teats for milk, not Union teats for brainwashing. Thanks.

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