Major Personnel Changes Could Alter North Highline Fire Department 3by Ralph Nichols

With the future of fire protection service in North Highline possibly in the balance, two major personnel actions by Fire District 11 commissioners, expected to be announced at a special meeting on Monday (Dec. 21), could even the scales.

The commissioners are believed to be negotiating a buyout of North Highline Fire Chief Scott Lavielle’s contract, and a layoff package for Sharon Alishokis, a long-time department secretary.

Fire District 11 commissioners are not at liberty to discuss the anticipated moves publicly because they involve personnel decisions.

But following a lengthy executive session at their Dec. 10 board meeting, called just after it was convened, commission Chairman Ron Malaspino announced that “two personnel actions are pending … that’s where we’re going to leave it for now.”

Major Personnel Changes Could Alter North Highline Fire Department 4

North Highline Fire Chief Scott Lavielle

Because of the Christmas holiday, the meeting, which normally would be held Tuesday, has been moved forward one day – it will be held Monday, Dec. 21 at 8 a.m. at the North Highline Fire Department headquarters station at 1234 SW 112th St.

Both Dave Malo, president of IAFF (International Association of Firefighters) Local 3780, representing North Highline fire chiefs, and Jeff Miller, vice president of IAFF Local 1810, representing the firefighters, said at the time it was likely that commission deliberations related to a union proposal to improve the fire district’s shaky financial posture.

“We’ll know more at the Dec. 21 meeting,” Miller said.

Malo and Miller said Fire District 11’s budget crisis is a result of the recession, which has caused assessed property values to decline, coupled with the loss of about $350,000 in 2010 after Burien annexes the southern part of the North Highline unincorporated area.

Combined, these factors are expected to result in a drop of about $1.15 million in fire district revenue, which comes only from property taxes.

Earlier this year, negotiators for the two locals presented a balanced budget proposal, including concessions in their wage and benefit package, “that would prevent any cuts in public service” in 2010, Malo said.

“They ignored our proposed budget,” which included the layoffs of LaVielle and Alishokis, Miller said, and also didn’t respond to a second proposal. The commissioners now have before them a third union proposal.

“They have no plan. They have no budget. And now we’re closing in on the end of December and they still have none.” State law requires that local government and special service district budgets for the following year be adopted by Dec. 31.

Major Personnel Changes Could Alter North Highline Fire Department 5

Commission Chairman Ron Malaspino

Talks between Fire District 2 (Burien/Normandy Park) and Fire District 11 also are underway, and could result in administrative and fire chief services for both departments being assumed by Burien/Normandy Park.

This, said Malo and Miller, would result in significant financial savings – perhaps as much as $1.5 million a year – for the North Highline Fire Department. That would allow the department to continue providing its current level of service, including responding to calls in north Burien.

“If not, it will be impossible to continue to do business as usual,” Miller added. “We see no option [in that event] but to cut public services.”

Dave Lawson, a former North Highline fire commissioner, told The B-Town Blog, “I’ve looked at the financial situation [in Fire District 11] and if they don’t cut the fire chief immediately and the secretary for training … they won’t survive 2010.”

The current board of commissioners has provided “no financial leadership,” said Lawson, who is chief financial officer of South King Fire & Rescue in Des Moines and Federal Way.

An unsuccessful applicant to replace the late Barb Peters on the board following her death last month, he estimated that without these layoffs, Fire District 11 won’t have in the bank the $1 million it will need to pay bills in the first quarter of 2011.

Should Fire District 11 go into next year without having improved its financial situation, there is speculation that Fire District 2 might withdraw from the current negotiations to assume some services for both departments.