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District 38 officials consider cuts

NORTH BEND - Firefighter positions have yet to be cut, but a medic services contract has as King County Fire District 38 commissioners attempt to trim expenses following the failure to pass a levy lid increase last November that leaves the group looking at a $170,000 shortfall.

Anticipating the budget shortcoming, District 38 commissioners went to the ballots twice last year seeking a levy increase. In September, a boost from 83 cents to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation was rejected, and in November an increase to $1.07 was defeated.

Opponents of the increase claimed that with levels of service remaining steady since 1993, and with assessed fire tax calculation doubling in that time, the district has the proper funding for the future.

During both campaigns, commissioners warned that defeat would likely result in the reduction of the current three-firefighter shift to a two-person rotation.

Commissioner Steve Parsons said that staff reduction remains a possibility for the district that is part of the Eastside Fire and Rescue consortium that serves Carnation, Issaquah, North Bend, Sammamish, Preston, May Valley, Tiger Mountain and Wilderness Rim.

"A lot of discussion needs to happen," said Parsons. "The last thing we want to do is cut service."

Under the current agreement, the city of North Bend and District 38 fund the $1.6-million operating budget for the downtown fire station - District 38 contributes about $850,000, while the city has earmarked $689,000. A reduction of services would find North Bend residents, who pay a separate levy fee, suffering as a result of a cut in service.

North Bend City Administrator George Martinez said the two sides are scheduled to discuss the problem sometime this week, but said no decisions have been made regarding the issue, including whether or not the city would be willing to contribute more money to the consortium if asked by the commissioners.

Martinez did say that the city recognizes the value of the services provided by the consortium, and that North Bend was willing "to make it work."

Currently the commissioners are pursuing other cost-cutting options.

The group has canceled a $50,000 contract with the Snoqualmie Fire Department for medic serves in the west end of the district. The contract, which will expire at the end of the year, found the department covering "minor" medical calls in the area, according to Parsons. In 2005, District 38 will handle those calls themselves, although the Snoqualmie station is closer.

Parsons said if the commissioners can get a lid passed in the future, negotiations would be sought to renew that contract.

In the past the commissioners have earmarked funds yearly to contribute to the apparatus replacement fund, rather than pay for the new equipment in one lump sum, Parsons said. This year the commissioners were forced to pay the $35,000 out of the reserve fund.

Parsons said he's reluctant to speculate what additional cost-cutting measures will be pursued until further discussion with the consortium and its legal team.

Although no final decision has been made about another levy-lid lift issue, Parsons said commissioners will spend the upcoming months talking with residents and discussing how an increase would affect them and dispel some of the myths that were spread during the elections.

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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