Fire grant, labor talks delay Vancouver budget adoption

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Following an hourlong executive session regarding labor negotiations, the Vancouver City Council put off adopting its spring supplemental budget Monday afternoon.

Among the line items in the budget: Accepting a $2.3 million federal grant to reopen the now-closed Fire Station 6.

A Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, offered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, would pay the city to hire 13 new firefighters to restaff Fire Station 6 at 3216 N.E. 112th Ave.

FEMA had given the city a June 30 deadline to officially accept the money and begin spending it; but the city council had expressed reservations about accepting the grant until it came to a contract agreement with its largest firefighter union, IAFF Local 452.

The contract is deadlocked and set to go before a state arbitrator, but the union and city have been meeting to try and resolve the contract on their own.

One city councilor said Monday the delay in adopting the supplemental budget was due to those labor negotiations.

City Manager Eric Holmes said that FEMA has agreed to extend the city’s deadline to accept the money, “as long as we’re progressing.”

“We’re still trying to work out a few details,” he said.

The city council’s hesitation to accept the grant comes from a requirement that Vancouver keep the exact levels of fire staffing as when the grant was accepted, meaning that should the city’s already struggling general fund falter, cuts would have to be made in other departments.

Councilors have said they don’t want to commit to keeping the same staff levels if they don’t know what most of the employees will be paid.

Adoption of the spring supplemental budget — and within it the SAFER grant — is now scheduled for July 11.