East Pierce Fire and Rescue will be paying off one of its bonds early, saving the department half a million dollars over the next decade.
Fire Chief Bud Backer made the announcement in a press release last week.
In 2012, East Pierce acquired close to $2.5 million in order to buy 3.13 acres of land on the corner of Veterans memorial Drive East and Main Street in Bonney Lake to eventually serve as the department’s new headquarters.
“Purchasing the land at the peak of the recession at 2012 values reduced the cost of the future Bonney Lake fire station when you factor in how much property values have increased in the last seven years,” Backer said in the release.
Since then, the department has been making average annual payments of $214,000 to pay off the bond by 2031.
However, it appears the remaining $2.2 million will be paid off by April 16, which effectively saves the department $500,000 in interest payments.
“Over the last few years, we’ve been saving money in to the reserve fund and into our facilities fund, which we can use,” Backer said in a phone interview. “And then this last year, we underspent our budget by a little over 5 percent, and we had additional revenue of 5 percent.”
That additional revenue, Backer continued, came from the Ground Emergency Medical Transport (GEMT) program, which was passed by the state legislature during the 2015-2016 session. The program helps fire departments like East Pierce cover the cost of emergency transportation, since Medicaid doesn’t reimburse the full amount.
“Medicaid is not paying us everything that we bill them, but they’re paying us more than what they were, and that made a significant difference in our revenues,” Backer said.
The money the department is saving will be going toward the goal of having every East Pierce fire rig staffed with three firefighters, he added. Currently, only two of the six fire rigs are staffed with three firefighters.
“Any money I have that’s not spoken for some other type of project is going toward increasing staffing,” Backer said. “That improves firefighter safety and public safety, because we can get in and do more at the fire scene than what we could do before.”
Washington code calls for three firefighters to be at a fire in order to perform search and rescue services — one to go into an engulfed home, and two outside ready to rescue the first. Fire departments can be fined if search and rescue operations are performed with less than three firefighters.
Backer said paying off this bond shouldn’t be confused with the $80 million bond voters approved during the 2018 general election, which is being used to fund the new Bonney Lake station and several others.
“We’re in the very beginning of the initial design phases,” he continued. “We’re working on design for both the Edgewood and Bonney lake station, and I’m guessing we’re not going to break ground until spring next year.”