Key Peninsula Fire District 16 has closed an anticipated year-end budget gap and is making slow progress developing plans for the Key Center real estate it acquired at the end of last year, according to Fire Chief Nick Swinhart and Fire Commission Chair Stan Moffett.
In July, the department was facing a $200,000 shortfall in its $10 million 2022 budget. The department is now about $185,000 in the black, according to Swinhart.
“One major way we worked on closing that gap was working out an agreement with labor to change how and when we hire people back (after leave or injury) and overtime, which basically required lowering minimum staffing from seven to five,” he said. “We also halted all spending; all critical spending had to go through me for approval, which had a big impact. It’s still really close.”
KP News incorrectly reported in August that the department had hired 12 new career firefighters and paramedics in the preceding two years. The actual number was 14, but the increase in new positions was just eight. (See “KP Fire Department Confronts Budget and Real Estate Issues.”)
Early in his tenure in 2019, former KPFD Fire Chief Dustin Morrow made three temporary hires permanent and added four new hires. He later initiated a process to hire an additional seven personnel before resigning Dec. 1, 2021, for a total of 14, filling six vacancies and adding eight positions. This expanded the line staff to 34, or three shifts of 11 plus backup provided by one of three chiefs on call.
The minimum number of personnel on shift was lowered to five in August and will remain there at least until the end of the year while the department comes up to full strength with the last of its new hires, according to Swinhart.
“Once we get two people back from paramedic school and two from long-term injury, we hope to increase minimums back up to seven,” he said. “It’s important to note, however, that we rarely have only five on duty.”
Stations in Wauna, Home and Longbranch are still staffed 24/7, he said.
The 2023 budget will be up for approval by the fire commission at the end of November. “What we are looking at is putting some healthy amounts of money into an apparatus replacement fund, as much as $250,000, which would be great because we haven’t been able to fund replacement for quite some time and that will get us prepared to replace those big ticket items,” Swinhart said. “We’re also looking at increasing our maintenance budget so we can keep up with the issues with some of our vehicles.”
Fire engines can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $700,000, he said.
No decisions have been made regarding the two Key Center real estate parcels the department purchased at the end of 2021, with an eye toward building a new headquarters and training facility to replace the aging station 46.
The former Olson house on Key Peninsula Highway was rented and a lease for the former O’Callahan’s restaurant (aka Reed’s and Buck’s) at the corner of KP Highway and 92nd Street NW was signed in April, but the building requires extensive repairs and remains vacant. The department spent $23,000 on urgent roof and other repairs and estimated that another $50,000 would be needed to complete the work.
Instead of spending more money on the property, the department and lessee are negotiating a lease amendment permitting the lessee to make repairs in lieu of rent for a period of time. The property is expected to generate about $70,000 in annual rent. A steak and seafood restaurant is planned.
“We have our attorneys talking,” Swinhart said. “The tenant is resisting some of the language in the lease amendment that our attorney is insisting upon to protect the district.”
The fate of both properties is still under discussion.
“Right now, we’re looking at building a new (HQ) after 46 somewhere because this building is 50 years old, it’s already been remodeled multiple times, if we remodel again, we start getting into updating things like sprinkler systems and seismic safety improvements and that sort of thing, which could make trying to remodel this building very, very expensive,” he said.
A capital planning committee met a few times with members of the public to explore options, but little progress has been made, according to Fire Commission Chair Moffett.
“What the committee needs to decide is do we need a new headquarters facility, and what does that look like,” Moffett said. “There are also decisions about what needs to be done about remodeling the other stations. When we have something tangible, we price that out, then we can take that to the public and do some town meetings and get the community’s feedback.”
Moffett had hoped to hold town hall-style meetings to discuss and modify the district’s plans over the summer, but now believes that could begin in January.
“The district needs to make decisions about what it needs going forward the next 10 or 20 years, and that was the whole idea of the new headquarters,” he said. “The two primary issues there was being able to staff in Key Center and having additional meeting rooms. Personally, I believe the property we purchased will work well for that.”
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