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Proposed CRFR budget includes $13K salary spike for chief

Two top administrative roles budgeted to have $20,000 in salary increases in next fiscal year


   The fire chief position for Columbia River Fire and Rescue could see an 11 percent salary increase in the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to the fire district’s proposed budget.

On Friday, May 6, the CRFR budget committee approved a draft budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year that outlines salary increases for administrative staff, fire crew personnel, and equipment mechanics in the district, including a $20,000 increase in total pay for the fire chief and finance director.

While most raises in the budget are accounted for with a standard 2.5 percent cost of living raise, the proposed raises also include a $13,000 bump in the fire chief’s salary. That increases the salary from $117,000 to $130,000 per year.

The proposed budget also includes a $7,000 annual raise for the finance and human resources director, bringing the salary from $93,000 to $100,000.

Fire Chief Jay Tappan explained that the salary increases were proposed for two reasons — to make the salaries comparable to other fire districts of similar size and composition, and to adjust administrative salaries to comply with a collective bargaining agreement.

The district is in its final year of the three-year agreement.

The sharp increase reflected in the proposed budget is less of a pay raise and more of a salary adjustment, Tappan said.

Administrative pay is in part determined by the base rate that firefighters receive, which is determined by the firefighters union. When that is increased, the difference in pay between a fire captain and fire chief grows smaller.

Establishing a more competitive salary also incentivizes CRFR employees to stay within the organization and work their way up, said Marit Nelson, director of finance and human resources for CRFR. She added that many of the salary adjustments and budget goals are in line with the district’s strategic plan.

Making an “apple to apples” comparison between numerous fire districts is difficult, Tappan explained when asked how the proposed salaries measure against similarly sized districts. Tappan pointed out that fire districts collect different taxes, serve different populations and have differing internal organizational structures.

In addition to the raises, the proposed budget includes funds to hire a third division chief, third full-time lieutenant and add three full-time firefighter positions. The number of full-time fire captain positions is proposed to be reduced from three to two.

   Adding additional personnel will help alleviate the workloads and overtime expenses, Tappan said.

While the salary increase for CRFR staff seems signifcant, it doesn’t mean the district has the budget to hire staffing for the volunteer-manned Deer Island station, he explained. To staff the substation with a minimum of two firefighters would require a minimum of six people to evenly split shifts, he explained. At a base rate of roughly $70,000 per firefighter, the bottom line would amount to more than $420,000.

“As far as money goes, if you’re talking about hiring six firefighters in the $70,000 range, it just isn’t in the cards,” Tappan said.

To put some perspective on the proposed budget, the Scappoose Fire District fire chief currently makes $111,781 annually, with a proposed salary increase of $3,354. The fire district serves 12,500 people. CRFR serves 27,000 people and covers 185 square miles.

La Pine Rural Fire Protection District and Crook County Fire and Rescue both serve populations of 25,000, with coverage areas of 115 and 450 square miles, respectively. In La Pine, the fire chief is paid $102,000 annually, and the Crook County chief takes home a yearly pay of $103,000. La Pine has proposed a $4,000 salary increase for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

On the other side, the Keizer Fire District, which serves 37,000 people and covers 10 square miles, but has a similar call volume to CRFR, pays the fire chief $123,000 per year.

The fire district will hold a final budget hearing on June 14.