Fire district board incumbents face challenges

East County Fire & Rescue candidates agree budget constraints is most crucial issue

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
photoVictor Rasmussen
photoThomas Gianatasio
photoRay Wygal
photoMartha Martin

East County Fire and Rescue Commission

Position 2 Candidates

Victor Rasmussen

Age: 67.

Occupation: General mechanic at Robertson & Olson Construction in Camas.

Notable endorsements: East County Volunteer Firefighters Association

Money raised: $933.

Website

Thomas Gianatasio

Age: 63.

Occupation: Retired fire captain for the San Jose Fire Department; currently a real estate investor and landlord.

Notable endorsements: None.

Money raised: None.

Website: None.

Position 4 Candidates

Ray Wygal

Age: 69.

Occupation: Retired security officer at the Washington School for the Deaf.

Notable endorsements: None.

Money raised: None.

Website: None.

Martha Martin

Age: 60.

Occupation: Private psychologist in Washougal.

Notable endorsements: East County Fire & Rescue Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2444 (Combined union for Camas, Washougal and East County Fire & Rescue firefighters), Vancouver Fire Fighters Local 452 and H-RoC (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle).

Money raised: $1,270.

Website

Two seats on the East County Fire & Rescue Commission are up for grabs, with two incumbent commissioners facing off against two newcomers.

The board of five governs the rural fire agency, which covers a 35,545-acre area that includes 3,605 housing units. Commissioners are elected to set agency policy, adopt an annual budget and oversee the fire chief.

Each commissioner is entitled to earn up to $104 per meeting, with two scheduled meetings per month.

All four candidates agreed that budget constraints is the biggest issue facing the fire district. Over the past four years, the agency has lost 30 percent of its budget.

Each candidate has a different opinion, however, on how to best address the growing concern.

Position 2

The race for Position 2 pits longtime commissioner Victor Rasmussen against Thomas Gianatasio, a retired fire official from California who moved to the area three years ago.

Rasmussen has been on the fire district board for 31 years. He said he is running for re-election to maintain the steady teamwork of the board.

"One commissioner can't do anything — we have to work as a team," he said. "I enjoy doing the service, and I think we need to continue the stability we have with existing commission."

Rasmussen said the way to do that is to make smart and noncontroversial decisions for taxpayers.

On his website, www.fcomm.org, Rasmussen points to a long list of cost-saving measures the board has taken during his tenure as commissioner. They include using innovative staffing arrangements to increase the number of on-duty responders and securing more than $1.5 million in grants for training, equipment and personnel.

"We need to take care of the people, and when the tones go off, have somebody there as soon as we can," he said.

Opposing Rasmussen is Gianatasio, who retired as a captain after 36 years with the San Jose Fire Department and moved to Washougal in 2010. He ran for the board in 2011, when he lost to George "Jack" Hoober while gaining about 33 percent of the votes — which he calls an accomplishment for a newcomer.

Gianatasio said he's attended every meeting he's been in town for and decided to run to bring some new blood to the board of decision-makers.

"It's so cliché, but it's time for a change," Gianatasio said. "I have a passion to do this; I don't think the taxpayer is being taken care of."

Gianatasio said that because the district's tax base continues to erode, he supports looking into new ways to bring fire coverage to the region.

"We're going to have to join up with Camas-Washougal and have some kind of partnership," he said. "That's the only way I see them surviving."

Position 4

Contending for Position 4, an unexpired four-year term, is current board member Martha Martin and Washougal resident Ray Wygal.

Because Martin was appointed to the board in May of 2012 to fill a vacancy, the commissioner elected to the position will serve an unexpired four-year term instead of the full six-year term.

Prior to her appointment, Martin was the fire agency's city liaison for two years, a job that included enhancing relationships with neighboring communities and advising the board.

According to her website, electmarthamartin.com, Martin is endorsed by the East County Fire & Rescue Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, among other organizations. She said the best way to tackle the budgetary issue is by planning for the future and asking the right questions.

"This is going on my second year here. I have worked very hard on that board to contribute as much as I can, and I want to continue," she said. "I bring new and fresh ideas. I think that my presence has created more dialogue, more debate on the issues."

Her opponent, Ray Wygal, said he has attended one board meeting and is running to get involved politically.

Wygal said he has interacted with firefighters over the last five years, having taken Community Emergency Response Training through the agency and making a point to drop by to hang out at the fire stations.

"I just decided I'd throw my hat in the ring," he said."If I get elected, I'll work hard for the fire department."

Knowing money is tight, Wygal said he would seek to find more grants to offer more services district patrons.

"I think if we could find more money to open up another station and man it, we could better serve the people in the district, " he said.