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Budget Committee: Avoid 'mixed message' to voters, union

Wary of Columbia River Fire & Rescue being perceived negatively by voters as it asks for approval of a major capital bond issue this month, the fire district’s Budget Committee pared back proposed raises built into a draft budget Tuesday, May 6.

Under the proposed budget, Chief Jay Tappan stood to receive a 3.31 percent, or $3,700, increase from his current salary. His base wages increased by 2.13 percent last year.

Adjustments in Tappan’s pay, as well as the salaries of the fire district’s two division chiefs, are set by the CRF&R board of directors after an annual performance review.

But with the district seeking a $15 million bond issue on the May 20 ballot and locked in labor negotiations with the firefighters’ union, some committee members said they were uncomfortable with budgeting for larger-than-usual raises.

Hans Feige put it bluntly.

“You’re asking for a levy, and you’re giving yourselves raises,” he told Marit Nelson, the fire district’s finance and human resources director. “Is this the message we want to be sending here?”

Board members Bob Braud and Diane Dillard agreed with Feige.

Braud said, “Even though the levy has nothing to do with operations ... you’re right, it does create a little bit of...”

“Mixed message,” Dillard finished.

Committee Chairman Dan Garrison said CRF&R has to give its administrators raises to keep pace with pay increases for union employees.

“We have to be able to keep or preserve our staff ... administrators and supervisors,” Garrison said. “It costs us way too much money to be hiring new ones and training them.”

Ultimately, the committee settled on a compromise, instructing Nelson to present the board next month with a revised version of the budget that keeps cost-of-living adjustments for administrators to 2 percent.

It was not immediately clear whether the committee’s move would affect a large proposed raise for Nelson herself — a 23.6 percent increase from what was adopted in the previous budget cycle. Nelson and Tappan said a series of significant “step increases” in Nelson’s salary were set in motion by a staff reorganization last fall that saw her take on additional responsibilities, including the role of budget officer for the fire district.

As for the $15 million bond issue, officials have said it is needed to pay for station upgrades and the replacement of equipment over the next 20 years. Money raised from the bond issue will not be used to pay employees, Nelson said.

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