Vancouver works to save fire, police jobs

It asks Clark County Fire District 5 if it will pay for 13 positions

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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In an attempt to save 13 grant-funded firefighter positions after the grant expires next year, the city of Vancouver reached out to Clark County Fire District 5 on Tuesday to see if it will pay for the positions in 2014.

At Monday's budget meeting, the Vancouver City Council directed City Manager Eric Holmes to contact the district, which contracts with the city for fire services.

Holmes met Tuesday with Clark County Fire District 5 Administrator Dave Vial, Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina and Lloyd Tyler, the city's chief financial officer.

The city needs $1.3 million — the cost of salaries, benefits, training and equipment — to pay for the positions in 2014, Holmes said.

The city started contracting to provide services in District 5 in 1994 with the idea that the area within the city's urban growth boundary, which includes Orchards, Sifton, Pleasant Valley and Minnehaha, would eventually be annexed. Two decades later, there are still no plans for annexation.

Vial said the district has been prudent the past five years and has money available in reserve funds, but the district's board of commissioners must decide whether to pay for the positions.

At an earlier city council meeting, councilors questioned if the contract was still a good deal for the city.

If District 5 commissioners become concerned the city might stop providing services, then they won't be interested in temporarily funding the positions, Vial said.

The city council also discussed ways to save five police positions that are set to lose funding in the next biennium. Holmes said he has met with Vancouver Public Schools officials to discuss extending a contract for a school resource officer who splits time between Fort Vancouver and Hudson's Bay high schools.

The other four positions are an auto theft task force officer; a domestic violence detective; a forensics investigator for the child sexual predator program; and a detective for the child sexual predator program. The sexual predator detective position is currently vacant.

While the city council does not typically meet the fifth Monday of a month, Monday's two-hour meeting was called by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt to give the council more time to discuss the 2013-14 budget.

The council stressed the importance of finding funding for the 13 fire and five police positions, Holmes said. He said the council discussed going to voters in the next two years to approve a new tax for public safety, but didn't make a commitment.

In addition to public safety, the council on Monday also discussed utility rates. The councilors affirmed a pay-as-you-go approach for maintenance, as opposed to incurring debt by taking out loans or bonds. That approach will translate into 5 percent increases each on water and surface water rates in 2013 and 2014, as well as smaller increases on sewer and solid waste rates.

The city council will have a first reading of the budget at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. Public testimony will be accepted.

If councilors are ready to move forward, a public hearing will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 19.