Wash. fire chief requests layoff, resigns

Chief Jim Walkowski asked for the board to lay him off as a way to improve the financial condition of the agency

The Chronicle

RIVERSIDE, Wash. — Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski, who is also the acting chief of the Chehalis Fire Department, on Wednesday asked the RFA Governance Board to lay him off as a way to improve the financial condition of the agency.

When asked about his motivation for such a request, he insisted it wasn’t necessarily attached to any existing job offer or opportunity elsewhere.

Hours later, Spokane Fire District 9 announced via its Facebook page that the eight-year member of the fire authority had accepted a job as assistant chief for the Eastern Washington fire department based in Mead. His start date is May 1, according to the Facebook post.

By 11 p.m., Walkowski submitted a letter of resignation to the RFA board.

During its meeting, the board had tabled the request, choosing to collect more information before making a decision.

The Chronicle has requested a copy of Walkowski’s contract with RFA. It’s unclear what compensation Walkowski would have been entitled to should he have been removed as chief before the contract’s completion.

When asked by The Chronicle why he did not simply resign, Walkowski said the board was aware of his interest in the Spokane position prior to the meeting, but nothing was made official.

Prior to the Spokane fire district’s announcement, Walkowski would not confirm any existing job offers or opportunities when asked to do so by The Chronicle.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Walkowski said.

He insisted that his request is meant to improve the financial condition of the agency. In his resignation letter, Walkowski said he would not be taking this action if the RFA were in a stable financial position with adequate revenues to support the administrative and operational needs necessary to serve the community.

“I’ve invested a lot of time and energy,” Walkowski said. “The flip side to that is you have to do what you have to do to preserve a reasonable level of service.”

The RFA board has said it expects to lose about $600,000 next year along with a $400,000 shortfall this year. If the budget reduction occurs, RFA will likely lose another six or seven firefighters in 2015, in addition to six who will be gone by August.

The 27-person force would be reduced by nearly half in less than two years.

Walkowski said the board was considering cutting one of the three chief officers, and he said it should be him based on his shorter tenure. Mike Kytta and Rick Mack serve as assistant chiefs.

“We haven’t cut anything up on top,” Walkowski said. “I’m proposing it’s me to save those revenues for other employees.”

Tom Davidson, Chair of the RFA Governance Board, said Walkowski’s proposal was just a suggestion to help the RFA that had not been approved by the board.

“It’s still an opinion,” Davidson said. “We have to do the best for our department.”

The RFA board recently decided to move forward with an additional levy in 2015 to help raise revenue that have been lost over the years.

A large portion of RFA’s funding comes from the local tax base, which has decreased since TransAlta, a major contributor, was ordered in 2011 to transition from a coal-fueled power plant to a natural-gas fueled power plant. Downsized operations at Transalta have meant a decrease in assessed value, which has meant a severe drop in funding for RFA.

All the while, the RFA board is still pursuing a functional consolidation with the Chehalis Fire Department. Walkowski currently serves as chief for both departments.

“This whole process, it went from booming to nothing,” Davidson said. “This is not a fun time.”

By resigning, Walkowski said, it would show levy voters that the RFA is making an effort to sustain revenues before asking for support.

“It’s not about me moving on,” Walkowski said. “It’s about the budget.”

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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