Tukwila budget hearing draws a crowd, many focused on cuts to fire department

Don't lose Fire Engine 52. That was the resounding message Monday night from full room of Tukwila residents and workers, who came to share their views on budgetary cutbacks to the City of Tukwila.

In a show of support

Don’t lose Fire Engine 52.

That was the resounding message Monday night from full room of Tukwila residents and workers, who came to share their views on budgetary cutbacks to the City of Tukwila.

With a row of yellow-shirted firefighters lining the back wall of Tukwila City Council Chambers, speaker after speaker spoke in support of the three-member crew and truck, slated to be dropped and replaced with a two-person aid car due to major funding cutbacks in the city’s 2011-2012 biennial budget.

“When you’re hurting, and you hear that fire truck coming down the hill, you feel good,” Tukwila resident Jack Gobright, told the Council, speaking of his own experiences with the firefighters when he suffered heart issues.

Gobright suggested the city start looking at cuts in its Building Department, noting he was pretty unhappy with getting tagged by a building inspector for

“They have given me an extra day, an extra week, an extra month with my parents,” said Chantelle Thomas, of the lifesaving aid calls performed by the firefighters on their engine. “These guys are awesome. You can’t, can’t let them go. They have done so much for our community.”

Thomas suggested the city get rid of its newsletter, the Hazelnut, to help shore up finances.

The decision is far from over – Monday’s public hearing, before the Tukwila City Council of Whole, is the start of what city officials are hoping is a community-wide dialogue on a contentious issue.

The problem: in the face of shrinking revenues, where to make necessary cuts in city programs and services.

Faced with anticipated losses in property taxes and sales tax, the budget proposed by Mayor Jim Haggerton outlines $4.1 million in cuts a year to a wide array of city services and programs, among them Fire Engine 52. Other aspects of city government weren’t spared either: nearly every department is seeing some kind of cutbacks, whether in loss of manpower or program cuts.

Monday’s meeting wasn’t the formal Council, but rather the working group operating as a Committee of Whole. The Council’s next work session on the budget is Oct. 19, followed by a formal public hearing on the document Nov. 22. The budget is expected to see formal adoption by Dec. 6.

Monday’s meeting was standing-room only, and it was clear that nearly everyone in the room had come to share and to hear what others had to say about the budget.

“We can certainly tell what’s on our minds,” Council President Dennis Robertson noted to a ripple of laughter, after he asked if anyone wanted to come to up to the microphone to talk about non-budget matters. Everyone remained seated.

But when the hearing did open up, plenty of people came with something to share.

Howard Cohen questioned how the Fire Engine and its crew could be up for cuts, when, he said, the city earlier had purchased two speed boats, paid for gear to outfit them, and then poured more money into training emergency responders to use them.

He also credited the firefighters of Engine 52 with keeping him alive.

“Four years ago, I had a massive heart attack,” he said. “A couple of these men in yellow saved my life.”

David Lipke, who does maintenance at an apartment complex near the fire house, gave high points to the firefighters.

“Engine 52, in the course of the 10 years I’ve been here, has responded rapidly to many calls, including myself,” he said. “They got me to Valley General in nothing flat.”

John Borden, a Tukwila firefighter since 1986, told the Council that a two-person aid car was not going to deliver at the service level of a three-person engine crew.

“In serious medical issues like CPR, there is an enormous demand” (on firefighters) he said, noting it takes a three-person crew to most effectively treat someone in need of CPR, with one person manning the oxygen mask, another doing chest compressions, and a third person preparing the defibrillator.

He also introduced the audience in the room to the three firefighters of Engine 52, although it was not outlined, on deadline, what their full names are.

“These fellows were hired four months ago,” he said, noting they thought they left their respective fire departments thinking they were getting secure jobs. “They took the risk to come here.”

Others in the audience also outlined their thanks to the city for funding in the area of human services, and outlined their hope that the support could continue.

Laura Linde, a counselor at Foster High School, noted the city’s financial assistance made it possible for her department to better assist students in need. One such student, she said, had been going through a major level of turmoil with family issues, and she had feared that student might take their own life. Today, she added, that student’s life has stabilized, and they are now in college.

“Your support does make a difference every day for the students of Tukwila,” she said.

Another speaker, representing Catholic Community Services, thanked the Council for city’s support of CCS programs in Tukwila.

“You are literally keeping people off the street,” she said, of the assistance CCS was able to render to families and individuals facing homelessness or loss of utilities due to financial issues.

The testimony throughout the evening rang with people’s emotions – with some speakers working to hold back tears, as they described how they had been helped in some way by city services or funding.

Councilman Robertson noted the Council’s job in the coming months was not going to be easy, and it would be harder still on the people who are supporting programs that are on the chopping black.

“There is no real fair way to cut,” he acknowledged to the audience. “We don’t have the money to pay for everything.”

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