More than a month of labor talks aiming to avert some budget cuts targeted for Tacoma’s Fire Department have failed, making divisive cutbacks approved for three city fire stations a reality.
“Unfortunately, no mutually agreeable solution came forth,” Tacoma Fire Chief Jim Duggan said Tuesday. “The talks are done.”
Top officials for Tacoma Fire Union Local 31 said Tuesday their union made two offers to the city to offset up to $1 million in approved cuts to city fire service. But the city rejected each without explanation or a counter-offer, they said.
“They just told us no,” union president Ryan Mudie said. “They don’t want solutions, they want more concessions – and it’s putting the public at risk.”
The failed negotiations mean Station No. 6 — Tacoma’s only fire station in the Port of Tacoma — will close. Staffing and service cuts also have moved forward as planned at two other stations – Station No. 13 in Proctor and Station No. 15 on Tacoma’s East Side.
With the city facing a $63 million shortfall, Tacoma Fire was among the departments hardest hit by the budget ax under the 2013-14 general fund. City officials last month approved an austerity budget with $11 million in fire department cuts, including reductions of about 30 firefighter positions, mostly through retirement buyouts.
Councilman Anders Ibsen, whose district includes Proctor, said Tuesday no one wants to see service cuts, but the city must march forward to a new fiscal reality.
“What’s done is done,” Ibsen said. “The budget has been approved and the bottom line is people’s (fire) service really isn’t diminishing. I have faith in Chief Duggan and our firefighters. I’m very confident the fire department will be able to respond in a manner so that public safety will be protected.”
Along with the closure of the port’s station, fire engines will be deactivated at the two other stations. The three firefighter-staffed engines will be replaced by emergency response vehicles staffed by two. The vehicles can respond to emergency calls, but have no hoses or tanks and can’t help fight fires.
The Proctor station will be staff part-time only, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. , with other stations responding to the area overnight. The East Side station will remain staffed around the clock.
In recent weeks, some council members and fire union officials expressed optimism that concession negotiations could help restore some of the cuts planned for the stations.
Local 31 offered $500,000 of contractual concessions more than a month ago, seeking to “split the costs” with the city to restore $1 million worth of cuts, Mudie said.
After the city rejected that proposal, Mudie said his union came back with a $1 million offer that would have increased firefighter work hours to help restore services. Mudie didn’t fully explain Tuesday the details of how the proposal met his stated cost-savings.
The union floated the offer three weeks ago — before the council took its holiday break, he added. But without explanation, Mudie said, the city informed the union today it was rejecting the offer. Council members discussed the offer during a closed-door session earlier Tuesday.
“We’re talking about something this important and they couldn’t get back to us for three weeks,” Mudie asked. “They took the holidays off because apparently they don’t care about public safety for the citizens of Tacoma. You can bet members of Local 31 were working over the holidays.”
Duggan, who declined to discuss details of the union’s proposals, said the city appreciated the union’s offers and thoughtfully considered them within a goal to find “a budget-neutral solution that would be sustainable for the long-term.”
“They didn’t fit that,” he added.
Duggan noted that firefighters’ response to a blaze that erupted at a Proctor home early Tuesday — just 49 minutes after the new service cuts had been in effect at Station No. 13 – were within the department’s four-minute travel time response goals.
City fire officials also plan to continually monitor the department’s performance amid the new cuts and will report back to the council within three to six months, he said.