Pasco’s budget for next year adds several new positions, including four new firefighters and a groundskeeper.
The Pasco City Council gave first approval to the 2015 preliminary operating and capital projects budgets Monday evening.
The general fund will pay for the four new firefighters and the groundskeeper. Three of the firefighters are expected to be paid for by the Port of Pasco, which needs them to provide additional staff for the response vehicle at Tri-Cities Airport. The other would free up battalion chiefs to respond in emergencies.
“In our city, there are often multiple emergencies requiring either EMS or firefighters,” said City Manager Dave Zabell.
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The engine firefighter and groundskeeper positions would be covered by a 1 percent property tax rate increase, as well as through more projected revenue from sales tax and utility fees, Zabell said.
Also being added are new positions in the public works department, which are paid for with user fees. Those include new wastewater and water treatment workers, an electrician, an irrigation worker, a street sweeper and a vehicle mechanic.
Mayor Matt Watkins initially questioned the new positions, but said Monday that he determined they are necessary.
“We’re always working to make sure new positions are absolutely needed,” he told the Herald. “It’s a lot easier to add staff than to subtract staff. We want to make sure it’s sustainable.”
No one spoke at a public hearing on the budget. To pass, the budget requires second approval, which is expected at the council’s Dec. 15 meeting.
The council also has votes coming up on increases to sewer, storm water and ambulance rates.
The general fund budget, which includes most city services like police and parks, will increase to $51.1 million in 2015, if approved, up from $44.5 million this year. The city will have a total budget of $160.3 million.
Also on Monday, the council:
• Approved the annexation of 6.2 acres on Argent Road in northwest Pasco, just east of Chiawana High School. Property owners Bill and Carel Rogers sought the annexation for property where nine to 11 homes could be built.
• Approved changing the name of the eastern part of Commercial Avenue to Venture Road to avoid confusion in the area south of Pasco-Kahlotus Highway.
• Approved rezoning 365 acres in the Heritage Industrial Center in east Pasco to medium industrial from light industrial. The city wants the higher designation to meet a need for more food processing plants. After complaints from residents of the nearby Tierra Vida neighborhood, several potential uses for the site were banned including slaughterhouses, race tracks, bone distillation, cement manufacturing, fat rendering, dead animal dumping and junk yards.
• Heard Watkins blast Councilman Tom Larsen, who last week accused city staff of gerrymandering council districts in the past, but declined to provide evidence of it.
“Unfounded allegations are a disservice to the public and this body,” Watkins said.
• Heard Councilman Bob Hoffmann join in criticism of a new Tri-Cities branding plan. Last week, Councilman Al Yenney said the campaign’s encouragement of a “fist pump” brought back images of Nazi Germany. Monday, Hoffmann said the slogan “Bigger. Better. Bolder. Louder.” left something to be desired.
“My impression is that ‘Bigger. Better. Bolder.’ fits with consistent positive messaging for Pasco,” he said. “The word ‘louder’ I kind of associate with the sound of a brick going through a picture window. I think ‘Bigger. Better. Bolder.’ rolls off the tongue and is a better message for the city.”