2007 budget doesn’t fill need for safety workers

Nate Ulrich

Kent’s police and fire departments are understaffed, and its proposed 2007 budget offers no relief for the city’s safety workers who are often forced to work overtime to compensate for the shortage.

Three vacant firefighter positions and two vacant police officer positions will remain unfilled next year under the proposed budget, which is still under review by City Council’s finance committee.

The Kent Fire Department has 33 firefighters and the police department has 37 officers available for duty.

“We can’t do all the things we want to do, so there are unfunded priorities,” Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said. “Until we’re in position to fund them, they’re not in this budget.”

Barb Rissland, Kent’s director of budget and finance, said the choice to leave the five positions unfilled will save the city about $440,000.

The $440,000, however, will not go to waste.

Safety Director Bill Lillich said some of the money will be spent to purchase new equipment that the Fire Department desperately needs.

He said the Fire Department will purchase 13 self-contained breathing apparatuses, which are the air tanks and gas masks that enable firefighters to breathe in a fire. Three new heart monitors for the department’s ambulances will also be ordered. Lillich said the new equipment will cost approximately $83,319, which is about 19 percent of the $440,000.

Some of the remaining money will be used to pay the Police Department’s expenses.

“We’ve had a little extra overtime in the police department and some of that money will go toward that,” Lillich said. “The remaining money will go back into that budget and carry over into the balance next year.”

Lillich said the purchase of the heart monitors is a necessity.

“They’ve gone to a new 12-lead monitor as a standard for the hospitals, so everyone is changing to them,” he said.

“That provides much more complete information to the hospital from out in the field.”

Kent Fire Chief Jim Williams said the new heart monitors have the potential to save lives because of their state-of-the-art technology.

“Right now we can only look at one part of the heart,” he said. “(The new monitors) will enable us to identify problems out in the field before we get patients to the hospital.”

Contact public affairs reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected].