Since hiring Matt Vinci as Vashon’s fire chief just four months ago, the district has seen changes, including major new hires on its administrative staff, an increased social media presence, and even a new website, which launched last week.
Now, Vinci and the district’s new director of finance and human resources, Christina Bosch, have put their stamp on a document that monetizes further changes in the district – VIFR’s 2023 budget, set for a vote next week by the board of commissioners.
In addition to hosting four public Commissioners’ meetings, held in October and November, during which the budget was discussed in detail, Vinci has also invited islanders to two “Coffee with the Chief” events at The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie in recent weeks.
At these events, and online, he also shared a fact sheet – which can be viewed online here – outlining key elements of the 2023 budget plan.
The fact sheet includes data that supports da Vinci’s determination to increase the number of professional firefighters in the district, as well as identifying nearly half a million dollars in federal and city funds, previously untapped by VIFR, to help pay for the expansion.
In an interview last week, Vinci said he enjoyed talking with islanders about the budget and that they supported his goal to restructure the district’s operations to ensure it can better serve Vashon.
Noting that landlords pay for most of the district’s operations through a tax that in 2023 will provide nearly $5.5 million in district revenue, he said islanders have a right to expect the fire district to operate in your highest level.
“People want services,” he said. “They want their fire district to be there when they need it most – and our mission is life, safety and property conservation.
The budget, available at tinyurl.com/mr2r7rmy, is expected to gain final approval from VIFR’s five-member board of commissioners at another public meeting on Monday, November 28. For more information about the meeting, visit vifr.org.
The new budget, with income and expenses equaling $6,722,912, calls for 20 full-time firefighter/EMT salaries to meet the goal of having five firefighters on each shift at the station.
In contrast, VIFR’s 2022 budget funded a staff of 13 full-time professional firefighters, augmented by a small group of part-time paid firefighters, as well as its volunteer force.
Through 2022, Vinci said, it has been rare to have more than three paid employees on call at any one time using this hiring model.
For Vinci, the rationale for the staff increase is clear.
Vashon is accessible only by ferry and cannot receive timely mutual aid from mainland departments, he said. The ferries also take into account the average VIFR transport time of approximately three hours for patients from the island to hospitals on the mainland. In 2022, Vinci said, the district made approximately 370 such transports, with each transport typically requiring two paid employees.
In cases of local structure fires, the need to have five firefighters on each shift is even more urgent, he said, since a Washington statute requires that firefighters cannot begin extinguishing the fire inside a structure without having two firefighters inside and two outside, the structure.
Both the local firefighters’ union and a majority of the board of commissioners expressed strong support for Vinci’s call for additional paid firefighter positions.
The push to increase the full-time force began months before Vinci’s arrival in Vashon — and included a strongly worded letter, sent to commissioners by the fire union in April, calling the current level of VIFR protection at the time “below standard and dangerous”.
The VIFR board also directed in April that the district try to staff each shift with four firefighters, above the level of three, by offering optional additional shifts with overtime pay for district career personnel.
But that staffing model has also proven to be impractical, both Vinci and the firefighters have said repeatedly in recent months, citing staff burnout and a lack of ability to meet the goal of filling the fourth firefighter position on most shifts. Yet the district has also incurred just over half a million dollars in overtime costs to date in 2022 — a direct result of inadequate staffing levels, Vinci said.
Vinci described his plan to increase the district’s staff to 20 firefighters as a trio—”better for the team, better for the budget, and better for the island.”
The new budget also cancels VIFR’s part-time paid firefighter program, which is currently completely understaffed due to attrition. Salary and benefit costs for this program – budgeted at approximately $400,000 in 2022 – have now been allocated to other personnel costs.
VIFR’s 2023 budget proposes salary costs for career firefighters of just over $1.8 million – an increase of $1.6 (budgeted) and $1.3 million (actually paid) in such salaries in 2022.
However, this increase in expenses is offset by the addition of substantial new revenue.
The 2023 district budget adds $317,867 in revenue, aligning VIFR as a participant in the federal government’s Emergency Ground Medical Transportation Program (GEMT), which will provide VIFR with supplemental payments to close the gap between its actual costs and the amounts received. Washington transport Apple Health (Medicaid) patients.
Previously, both CFO Christina Bosch and Vinci said VIFR had not participated in the program, despite being eligible to do so.
An additional $164,373 will be added to the district’s 2023 budget from its participation in King County’s Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) program – funded by the existing King County’s EMS Levy – and will allow VIFR to provide additional resources, including home visits, for high need patients on Vashon.
VIFR’s participation in the program, Vinci said, would also ease stress on the island’s 911 system.
The district is also long-term eligible to participate in the MIH program, and the $164,000 income resulting from joining the program in 2023 will reflect payments the district can claim retroactively for the last four years. Beginning in 2024, the program will add approximately $45,000 in revenue to the district budget each year.
The search for additional sources of funding, including grants and unused municipal tax funds, is ongoing, Vinci said.
“We will look at every possible opportunity to leverage grant resources to provide the highest possible level of service on the island,” he said.
Another $88,000 in revenue for the district under the 2023 budget will come from an expansion of rent revenue from the district’s cell tower use by major communications companies, he said.
Health and wellness
VIFR’s 2023 budget also includes $65,000 in new wellness and fitness programs for all VIFR members – funds that will be spent on a variety of things, including new equipment to properly clean contaminated firefighters’ protective gear. , new fitness equipment to be installed at Station 55, and a retreat for full members, led by nationally recognized facilitators, addressing all aspects of members’ physical and mental health.
Broader community health will be funded through a $36,500 item establishing, among other initiatives, widespread CPR training in the community.
Two division heads
Changes to the VIFR administrative leadership structure – part of Vinci’s district reform – are also incorporated into the 2023 district budget. training and district security.
Those positions will be replaced by two new ones – a division chief for fire and emergency medical services and a division chief for training and safety. A new salary expense of $145,600 for the last position is included in the 2023 budget.
In addition, the budget includes an expenditure of $36,500 to create a community-wide fire prevention and risk reduction program as part of the MIH program.
The new budget also includes the expenditure of $191,000 for an upgrade that Vinci requested to VIRF’s aging fleet – three new team vehicles that will arrive in 2023. More upgrades are planned for 2024, including the order of a new relief car and fire engine, to arrive in 2025. Currently, Vinci said, he is also seeking funding to replace VIFR’s 28-year-old support vehicle — a converted beer truck that is now 28 years old.
To fund fleet purchases, as well as the planned renovations for VIFR Station 55, the VIFR budget also calls for the district to add $700,000 to VIFR’s sizable reserve accounts in 2023. Current reserves, in separate accounts for facilities, fleet, general reserves, equipment and volunteer expenses now total approximately $3.6 million.
In 2023, reserves for capital construction, fleet replacement, and fire equipment will be increased by $700,000.
In The Beachcomber’s interview with Vinci about VIFR’s finances and the 2023 budget, the fire chief also said he plans to recommend that VIFR commissioners present a property tax increase to voters next year. If approved, it would take effect in 2024.
Voters approved a similar VIFR “tax cap increase” in 2017. This 6-year measure expires in 2023.
Under state law, taxing districts can raise their property taxes by no more than 1% per year — unless voters approve more.
VIFR lid lifter voters passed in 2017 raised the district tax rate from about 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed value that year to $1.50 — the maximum allowed by state law — in 2018.
This, along with a large increase in appraised values, increased VIFR’s property tax revenues by over 80%.
Although its tax collection has increased, rising property values in recent years have reduced the district’s tax rate. The projection is around $1.09 per $1,000 in 2023.