South King Fire & Rescues entire budget is in peril.

With funding options limited, cuts being made to staff, wages being frozen, the firefighters union on the verge of granting concessions for the second year in a row, your chairman of the board of commissioners does not want to hear what you have to say.

This is an agency content to sit in quasi-private meetings and make good old boy decisions about your safety without one peep of input from you.

On several occasions you will hear commissioners voice that they want feedback or reaction from the public. But this is apparently all a ploy of complacency.

The public comment period is limited to one opportunity BEFORE the items of the agenda are discussed. And the details of the items are sadly missing from view.

So the public is left to listen silently while information unfolds. And may develop a pertinent question or hear of a vital concern that should be mentioned. But, alas, in true form of a vacuum, the public, (unless a close friend of the district, of course) has to wait a month until the next meeting to voice it.  Meanwhile, the board works with laser focus to meet its own goals and you are forgotten. The decision has been made and voted on while any prudent input is nicely silenced, again.

 

Public Silenced

At the most important Special meeting of the board of commissioners on January 19th, a petty game was played by Commissioner Bill Gates when he childishly refused to hear from a member of the public on a matter that will decide the next four years funding options for the district.

Funding options had been discussed, ballot dates and deadlines presented, pleas made and solemn stories told.

The choices presented by Chief Allen Church and his staff were carefully prepared. Four options were laid out with desire for one of them to be acted upon. Soon. Indeed, Chief Church said that any resolution presented at the next general meeting would be embraced. Funding options with vigor for passage and inactivity with somber disappointment.

Do we 1) Do nothing to increase funding, 2) Pursue the Benefit Charge, 3) Pursue a Bond [limited to use for capitol projects] or 4)Pursue a $3.5million four year Excess Levy?

 

Which would you choose?

Option One is not a responsible option.

Option Two would be the best option and guarantee reasonable and adequate funding for years to come with identifiable advantages while allowing for the best flexibility to meet the needs of the public.

Option Three would give some relief but could legally only be spent on clearly identified capital expenses. Workable in that it allows for existing funds and revenues to meet operating expenses, but not desirable because of the spending restrictions.

Option Four, ask the public for $3.5 million per year for the next four years to provide revenue for known and identifiable advantages while allowing for flexibility to better meet the needs of the public.

 

How the board reacted

At the recommendation of Chief Church to ignore visiting the Service Benefit Charge, which is the obvious and best option, the board took Chief Church’s suggestion and instead almost settled on option Four, but some immediately wanted to explore requesting a higher amount from the taxpayer, upping the measure from $3.5 million per year to over $4.125 million per year.

This could appear on the ballot in a Special Election held in April, in the Primary election held in August, or both if failure occurs in the first attempt.

 

Ignoring vital input from the public

There were two very critical questions that need answering prior to putting forth any ballot measure and not one payroll person in the room thought to ask them. After hearing all the discussion, and knowing that ultimate failure of any chosen solution was in the balance, I wanted to bring these vital and pivotal points to the attention of the board.

Sitting a mere 6 feet away from Commissioner Gates, Chairman and also moderator for this event, I tried to get his attention. I was ignored. He obviously heard me because when Lieutenant Ryan Herrera, sitting between us, whispered to him that I wanted to speak, Commissioner Gates said “I know”, fiercely ignoring me.

 

The points could quickly and easily be dealt with or considered had they been voiced and I still wanted the opportunity to make the board aware of them.

So, like a school boy, I raised my hand. After several minutes, Commissioner James A. Fossos voiced that “it looks like a member of the public would like to say something”. Commissioner Gates replied again “I know” and continued to ignore me.

Commissioner Mark Freitas made one last futile attempt by asking if “the chair would entertain hearing comments from a member of the public.”

NO! said Commissioner Gates, followed by several moments of awkward silence.

 

This is the the most critical time for the district and I think they are rushing forward a bandaid approach to your safety. and could jeopardize funding for years to come.

All because your Chairman of the Board felt it more important to ignore two separate requests from his own board members and play ruler than take 30 seconds to listen to a member of the public.

The vacuum is still painfully present at the board level.

God bless us.

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