Justin Burnett / The Record Chief Rusty Palmer discusses the proposed budget at the monthly commissioners meeting on Oct. 13.

Wage increases included in South Whidbey Fire/EMS budget

South Whidbey Fire/EMS’s 2017 budget will decrease 3 percent from last year, despite including wage hikes for 10 employees.

That does not include a $6 million plan for the district’s new headquarters in Bayview.

“The total amount we have available next year is $2,733,309, and that leaves us at an $80,000 surplus, which is a good place to be,” Chief Rusty Palmer said. “We’re in a good shape with this budget.”

The draft document was presented to the public for the first time at the district’s monthly board of commissioners meeting Oct. 13. The board is slated to vote on the final budget during the district’s next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 at the district’s headquarters on Cameron Road in Freeland.

Working with a proposed $2.7 million budget for 2017, Palmer is pushing for raises for the district’s lowest paid staff — 10 workers. No other employees, including administrators, are proposed to receive wage increases. Overall, personnel costs pencil out to $1.6 million which is a 3 percent increase from 2016.

Of those who are getting raises, two are full-time employees and eight work part-time.

The wage increase comes as the district aims to keep up with the exponentially rising number of emergency calls. It’s estimated the district will receive 2,573 calls by the end of the year, while there were 2,391 in 2015. That’s a 34 percent jump in calls since 2011. Seven part time firefighters were hired throughout 2016 to alleviate the burden on what is primarily a volunteer force.

“The challenge is going to be staffing these calls,” Commissioner Kenon Simmons said. “This year and over the next few years, as the citizens expect a quality response, it’ll be difficult to give the response they need and deserve.”

Proposed operations costs total $1.04 million, a 10 percent decrease from 2016 — about $350,000. Palmer points to predictive maintenance measures taken by the district as a reason for the decrease, in which staff anticipate what could go wrong rather than waiting for something to go wrong. He added involving the entire staff in the budgeting process has also led to economic savings, where numerous eyes look over the budget as opposed to one or two higher ups.

“Our folks are frugal,” Palmer said. “We spend a lot of time looking at the budget because we all create it together.”

The budget also has one massive capital expense in the budget: the Bayview fire station predicted to be completed in 2018. The estimated $6 million price tag will be financed with $4.8 million in bonds with the remaining $1.2 million covered by the district’s capital reserve fund.

The reserve fund currently has $1.6 million and Palmer says that will be refilled over the next year.