Wash. FD faces budget cuts, firehouse closing

Yakima firefighters' union says stations are already understaffed and cutting 12 firefighters will severely hurt response times

By Joel Donofrio
Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. — A widening gap between general fund revenues and expenses is prompting the Yakima City Council to propose 10% across-the-board cutbacks, and the possible reductions of police and fire protection already have drawn opposition.

The elimination of 11 sworn officers and four other positions in the police and city corrections department was discussed on May 9 at a council study session, and similar cutbacks for the Yakima Fire Department and SunComm dispatch center will be presented at another study session this week.

Yakima Fire Chief Aaron Markham will present budget cuts — which could include the elimination of 12 firefighter positions and the closing of Fire Station 92 at 7707 Tieton Drive — at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Harman Senior Center, 101 N. 65th Ave.

Markham's proposal was released in the City Council's information packet Friday afternoon, and it generated a prompt reply from the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 469, which represents Yakima's firefighters.

The union believes Yakima's fire stations already are understaffed considering the city's increasing number of emergency calls and growing population, and believes the proposed budget cuts would severely hurt response times and emergency services.

"The impact of closing Station 92 means there is no fire engine west of 40th Avenue to respond to emergencies," the IAFF Local 469 executive board wrote in a news release issued Friday afternoon. "This means increased response times while Engine 93 (511 N. 40th Ave.) and Engine 94 (Yakima airport) respond into Station 92's area.

"This will continue to require engines all over the city to respond out of their response area to cover calls, thus increasing response times citywide," the statement added.

The union said laying off 12 firefighters would lower the ratio of firefighters per 1,000 residents from 0.90 to 0.78 for Yakima. Both are well below the National Fire Protection Association's recommendation of 1.5 firefighters per 1,000 residents.

"While emergency calls in the city continue to increase year after year, and with our population steadily increasing, the Yakima Fire Department is actually smaller today than it was 20 years ago," the union said in its news release. "Simply put, we cannot sustain a 10% cut."

Union officials urged the public to attend Tuesday's study session to speak against the increased response times and reduces services they believe will result from the proposed budget cuts.

Upcoming budget woes

Over the past few months, City Manager Bob Harrison and Director of Finance and Budget Jennifer Ferrer-Santa Ines have warned that general fund revenues — including budget transfers — will fall short of expenses beginning in 2025.

Harrison has said revenues were $2.4 million short of covering expenses at the end of fiscal year 2022, requiring the use of reserve funds to cover the difference.

This will cause the city's net general fund balance to gradually decrease over the next five years and eventually run a deficit unless there are additional revenues or fewer expenses, he said.

The 2023 budget projects a $2.5 million net fund balance; it dwindles to $599,000 after 2024; and is estimated to be negative-$3.7 million in 2025, Ferrer-Santa Ines reported at the City Council's Feb. 28 retreat.

After discussing the limited — and politically unpopular — options for increasing taxes and other revenues, council members asked department leaders whose budgets are covered by the general fund to propose 10% across-the-board budget cuts.

Tuesday's meeting covering the fire department and SunComm dispatch center is the second of seven budget review study sessions, which continue through early August. Each department leader will discuss areas of service and proposed expenditure reductions. City Council members will begin consideration of those proposed cuts this fall.

(c)2023 Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, Wash.)
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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