East Pierce fire commissioner Rick Kuss retires

Rick Kuss was awarded the “Bill Jarmon Lifetime Achievement Award” last December for his exemplary service as a fire commissioner.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue Commissioner Rick Kuss announced he will be retiring from his position on the board on March 1.

“I have been in public service since I was 17 years old and planned to retire at 62,” Kuss wrote. “So after 44 years I am retiring and to do so I need to resign my position at East Pierce.”

Kuss wrote in an email that his retirement has nothing to do with his recent disagreement he had with the rest of the board concerning the process for recruiting and hiring a fire chief.

The fire board decided to hire Greg Prothman to conduct a national search for a new fire chief. Kuss disagreed with the decision, saying it was “one of the poorest decisions” he had seen as a commissioner.

Kuss started his career in firefighting as a volunteer firefighter in Sumner while he was in high school, following in his father’s and eldest brother’s footsteps.

In 1975 Kuss was accepted into the Puyallup Fire Department as a full-time firefighter and was eventually promoted to deputy fire marshal in 1990. Kuss then went to the law enforcement academy and became a police investigator.

Kuss became a fire commissioner with the Lake Tapps Fire Department in 1989, which became part of East Pierce in 2000.

“It’s been a great career and I am very proud of the men and women of East Pierce Fire and Rescue,” Kuss wrote. “I’m glad I was able to do my part in helping to develop a high level of fire and emergency medical service to the citizens I served.”

Kuss plans to spend more time with and spoil his granddaughter and new grandson and enjoy fishing and hunting season.

Challenges facing East Pierce

One challenge the department is facing is a lack of a command structure, according to Kuss.

Kuss’ retirement is the third retirement East Pierce has seen so far this year. Former Deputy Chief John McDonald retired at the beginning of February of this year, and Fire Chief Jerry Thorson plans to retire at the end of April.

Both McDonald and Thorson have said their retirement plans had been in the works for several months, even up to a year. “The command structure has some big holes that need to be filled,” Kuss wrote. “The new chief is going to have to be very creative in filling those positions without creating staff burnout, all while finding the funding to do so.”

Funding is the other challenge East Pierce will be dealing with this year.

The department failed to acquire the supermajority of votes (60 percent) needed to pass a maintenance and operations levy during the 2014 election cycle.

This resulted in the loss of more than $3 million in revenue.

“Unless the new chief rolls in with a trunk full of gold or a magic wand, he or she is going to have to be creative in working towards renewing current funding sources, and/or finding new ones,” Kuss wrote.

Some parting advice Kuss had for the board is to look at the option of a fire benefit charge.

Central Pierce Fire Department currently uses a fire benefit charge.

The main difference between a fire benefit charge and a maintenance and operations levy is how property is assessed.

A levy assesses total property value to charge residents, while a fire benefit charge is based on the square footage of structures on a parcel of land, according to Central Pierce Deputy Chief of Administration Baron Banks.

This means residential landowners would pay less under a fire benefit charge than commercial or industrial landowners.

“The benefit charge spreads the tax base out and those types of structures who require more fire services pay more,” Kuss wrote. “I think it’s a much fairer way to provide funding, and chatting with Central Pierce or Valley RFA (Regional Fire Authority) would have been a positive step.”

Additionally, Banks said a fire benefit charge only requires a simple majority of votes (50 percent) to pass, unlike a levy.

However, if a fire benefit charge is enacted for East Pierce, state law would require property taxes to drop from $1.50 to $1.00, according to Banks.

Status of the Commissioners

With Kuss retiring, the Board of Commissioners will appoint a new member to serve for the rest of the term.

This new member would then be up for election in November.

Commissioner chairperson Dale Mitchell said the board will discuss application dates and requirements for the position at the March 17 meeting.

Ron Scholz, Karlynne McGinnis and Mitchell will also be up for election in November.