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Puyallup Fire Department Compromises on Staffing; Won't Impose Ambulance Fee

TACOMA, Wash. -- Puyallup will hire three firefighters next year, not the 12 employees the Fire Department had requested and which had been included in the city s preliminary 2008 budget.

That earlier version was written by former City Manager Jim Bacon, who left the city two weeks ago to take a job as city administrator in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

The final $161 million budget approved at Monday s City Council meeting belonged to Gary McLean, Puyallup s city attorney, who was recently named interim city manager.

In the past two weeks, McLean and his financial staff whipped up a budget proposal that found money for a few firefighters without adopting a controversial ambulance fee.

The total cost of the additional fire employees will be $360,000.

The council also approved a 1 percent increase in revenues from the regular property tax levy and earmarked it for the new Fire Department employees. The increase will bring in an estimated $91,000.

Bacon had suggested imposing an ambulance utility fee to raise $1.3 million for the dozen Fire Department staffers, including nine firefighters. The fee would have been added to monthly utility bills, though the exact amount wasn t clear Monday night.

The council, however, didn t like the fee. McLean s budget gave them an alternative to hire some firefighters now.

The council agreed to meet by the end of February to come up with a permanent solution to fund more Fire Department staffing.

Puyallup Fire Chief Ruth Obadal said after the meeting that she was happy to get the three firefighters, who will staff the city s ladder truck, and she looks forward to further discussion about her department s needs.

For years, firefighters have lobbied the council for additional resources to keep up with growth, to no avail. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of ambulance calls increased by 28 percent, from 3,271 to 4,186.

In addition to the ladder truck crew, Obadal had proposed adding six firefighter/paramedics in 2008 to make the city s second ambulance ready 12 hours a day, seven days a week. She also sought three management/support positions to accommodate a larger department.

Council members thanked McLean and the city s financial staff Monday for their hard work on the budget in the wake of Bacon s leaving.

This is one of the toughest budget sessions I ve ever been through, said Councilwoman Kathy Turner, who was first elected in 1993 and spent four years as mayor.

She added that she was glad to see another set of manager s eyes poring over the budget.

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Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692

mike.archbold@thenewstribune.com

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BUDGET AT A GLANCE

Other highlights of the Puyallup budget:

  • A 3 to 3.9 percent pay raise for 111 city employees who were facing a pay cut under the preliminary budget proposed by the former city manager.
  • A 1 percent increase in revenues from the Emergency Medical Services levy. The additional EMS property tax revenues will amount to about $15,528.
  • An increase in the city s transportation impact fee collected from new home and business construction.
The fee will go up from $3,000 to $4,500 per vehicle trip generated. Based on projected new construction in the city, it will generate an estimated $18 million between 2008 and 2014 to pay for major street projects, including the Shaw Road and 39th Avenue Southeast extension.

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