Fire commissioner explains budget cuts in wake of two levy failures | Guest column

by Nick Negulescu

Fire Commissioner #3, Orcas Island Fire & Rescue

Some people in the community have characterized this action and this budget as “vindictive.” I want to speak directly to those people.

I don’t live in a fantasy realm where we can magically — and in good conscience — send the fire department into bankruptcy. The public has spoken, twice! We are heading over the levy cliff.

What does “Levy Cliff” mean?

It means draconian budget cuts because the public has chosen to defer a payment on the fire department. The public has essentially chosen to skip a payment and the immediate and direct result is that the department has been “short-changed” and is facing a budget shortfall. This is the most responsible action, in my mind, for the board of fire commissioners to take given that any new funding for the fire department is still just a twinkle in the new commissioners’ eyes.

If, and WHEN, the public votes again on a levy — because you’re going to need a new levy before you get a bond or anything else — if, and when, a levy passes, at that point: hurrah! That money doesn’t start flowing again until April 2025.

Maybe the new board can look at rehiring and line up some job interviews for March 2025. The board is simply resetting the fire department’s budget back to the current tax levy rate. We’re right-sizing it based on the amount of funding it is projected to receive based on voter-approved levies. This is why I am voting yes on this budget.

This community has voted that it does not want to support the fire department at a critical time when it needed funding to continue operations at the same level of care as before and the community voted that down — twice. The community failed to grasp the importance and criticality of the patient: the fire department. The community voted to skip a payment and now it has the outrageous audacity to ask that we not cut the budget. We’re not actually cutting the budget; that has already been done by the public. We’re simply reconciling the budget with what the voters have approved.

I don’t intend to bury my head in the sand and vote “NO” and simply keep staffing and equipment refurbishment in the budget on a whim that the community will pass a levy in the future. Many of you run businesses in the community, don’t gaslight me. If your revenue falls, you reduce operations. It’s simple. Lock step. I will vote to approve this budget.

And to the fire department, I want to say thank you to everyone who has worked in any capacity — in the past, currently working or will work in the future. My hope is that the community can reconcile, quickly, with itself, the actions it has precipitated here today.