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Questions for South King Fire and Rescue board candidates
The Federal Way Mirror is offering candidates for South King Fire and Rescue’s board of commissioners the opportunity to speak to readers in their own words.
Below are three questions answered by three out of four candidates (Timolin Abrom, a candidate for position 4, did not participate).
Debates for South King fire commissioners, along with Lakehaven Utility District and Federal Way School Board candidates, will run 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Federal Way High School’s little theater (fire and Lakehaven candidates will begin at 5 p.m.).
Q: Why are you running for the South King Fire and Rescue board of commissioners, and what kind of impact can you make on the board?
• Mark Thompson (position 4): The fire service was my career path that started in Federal Way as a resident volunteer in 1969 while attending Bates Technical College in Tacoma. While a volunteer, I served as a lieutenant and captain. I want to give back to the community and to continue the path of providing top quality fire and emergency services by dedicated and professional staff and get the best bang for our tax dollars through the continuing use of our Strategic Leadership Plan, which is the blueprint for the district’s future. I understand the fire service issues and the need to be involved at the local, county and state levels so as to be better informed and to share my knowledge and experience with other fire department commissioners and leaders.
• James Fossos (position 5): It has been my honor and privilege to have served in the fire service for more than 40 years. As a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran, I proudly served our great country in the Vietnam War. It is this compassion for serving our citizens as your fire commissioner that keeps me going, motivated, well informed and on top of my game. I am deeply committed to the care and needs of our citizens and our communities. Our fire department’s high quality of service provides the very best in life safety services that protects our citizens from the ravages of fires, disasters and medical emergencies. It is with my service orientation, coupled with the over 40 years of fire service experience, that assists me as a commissioner dealing with life and death policy level decisions. As many of you who know me, I do not simply criticize. Rather, I analyze, consider service levels, and make decisions based on my years of experience as a combat fire professional. It is a combination of service orientation, and proven leadership, coupled with my compassion to serve that makes me uniquely qualified to be your fire commissioner during these difficult financial times.
• Jerry Galland (position 5): I want your vote to continue protecting your investment in fire district services. Since September of 2010, I have attended as many meetings as my opponent, making sure that the public continues to receive the best fire protection and medical services at a reasonable cost. Several instances of questionable spending practices have been corrected, some you can read about in The Mirror. Others can only be addressed after you elect me fire commissioner. My service will save you money. I will not charge mileage to get to work, create “volunteer” activities then charge hundreds for attending, or seek reimbursement for attending a funeral or chili cook-off. Supported by Commissioner Fossos, the district committed millions purchasing land without your vote for a training center it cannot afford and pays hundreds of thousands each year in interest alone. I support voter approval to build something. Elect Jerry for accessible and accountable government.
Q: In 2010, Prop. 1 asked voters to approve a service benefit charge to maintain current levels of fire service. The measure failed. What is the most visible public impact of that failure?
• Mark Thompson (position 4): One of the visible impacts is that there is one less aid car on the road and one of the remaining two is part time, dependent on staffing. If you have a fire or have witnessed a fire recently, it takes longer to muster a sufficient number of firefighters, as required by safety standards, some of which come from neighboring fire department agencies, to mount an interior attack on a fire. This contributes to increased property losses. Some of the levels of service have been maintained through use of reserve funds. However, those funds are running out and there will be more loss of services in 2012 due to loss of revenue due to declining assessed property values.
• James Fossos (position 5): The most significant impact relative to the failure of Proposition One is the loss of nearly 25 percent of our departmental income since 2009. This equates to nearly $6 million in lost revenues, which has necessitated closing down one aid car completely, and making another aid unit only a part time staffed emergency vehicle. This has impacted our ability to serve our community. In addition, we have had to vacate 17 departmental positions since 2009, all achieved through attrition as opposed to layoffs, with 13 of those positions being front line firefighters. With the new 2012 projections showing another loss of over $1.5 million in revenues, we will be faced with more difficult decisions relative to our budget. Sadly, there may need to be reductions in additional services and staff positions due to the ongoing economic downturn. This is where having a fire commissioner with a proven fire service background and fire service experience will pay off because of my passion and ability to work with the fire chief, staff and my fellow fire commissioners on policy issues relative to the loss of income.
• Jerry Galland (position 5): Our boots-on-the-ground firefighters and members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2024 took the initiative and clearly put the public interest above their own. In January they presenting a Memorandum of Understanding to the district forfeiting wage increases for 2011, saving the district hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thank you members of IAFF Local 2024. The public has seen little or no visible impact in service due to failure of Prop 1. The district threatened increased response times. Not so. A September 2011 report reveals response times almost identical to 2009 levels. The district threatened loss of insurance rating. Not so. Our rating remains at Class 2 with no expectation of any re-evaluation or downgrade in the near future. And with no loss of firefighters or essential equipment, this community saved almost $5 million this year. Full disclosure: I chaired the committee against Proposition 1.
Q: Do you think the fire district should be incorporated into the city as a department rather than ran separately? Why or why not?
• Mark Thompson (position 4): Most definitely not! The fire district is an independent municipal corporation that is charged with protecting lives and property from fire and providing emergency medical services to its constituents. Fire districts do not have to share their dollars with maintaining parks, roads and other public works projects, police services and city government functions. The fire district’s only focus is to provide quality fire and emergency services based on a strategic plan, not based on how much money can be scratched out of the city budget and have to fight with other competing city fiscal requests and constraints. If the fire department was a city department, the funding, staffing and response times would be compromised to the bare minimum required, and funding for those minimal services would be mixed in with funding for parks, public works and police services and other city government functions. Such action would put citizens and local business properties in jeopardy during an incident. Citizens’ lives would be greatly affected due to minimal service levels that would be provided. Firefighter safety would be compromised due to minimal staffing and longer response times.
• James Fossos (position 5): The main reason that the fire district should not be incorporated into Federal Way is that South King Fire and Rescue actually serves two cities, Federal Way and Des Moines, as well as a portion of unincorporated King County. Federal Way makes up approximately 60 percent of SKFR. Both Federal Way and Des Moines annexed into the fire district many years ago, as the citizens determined that a standalone fire district would provide a high level of service with fire commissioners elected to oversee fire and emergency services alone, not the myriad other departments and functions contained within each of the two cities. Further, the cities annexing into the fire district provided them with an increased levy capacity, and allowed them to receive fire department services without having to find ways to fund them. The relationship between South King Fire and Rescue and both cities we serve has been extremely supportive, and has worked for many years. The proposition of a city wanting to take this responsibility back on in this time of declining revenues simply makes no sense whatsoever.
• Jerry Galland (position 5): No. For the past 60 years the district carefully formed what we have today. Consideration was given to best serve the community with the best use of taxpayer resources and the overall geography of the region served. Separation would put undue burdens on residents in Des Moines and the unincorporated areas presently served, forcing them to incur additional administrative costs. Shedding areas not currently inside one city limits to neighboring districts would unduly create geographic obstacles and service time difficulties. Division would require interlocal agreements and the new department would still be first to respond. Look at the proximity of Station 65 to the city of Auburn for example. There would be no realistic reduction in administrative staff for duplicity, the stations are well situated and the community is better served by keeping this district separate from the city. Elect Jerry to continue protecting your investment in fire district services.