City of Tukwila uses five-part strategy to cover estimated $6.1 million revenue loss due to COVID-19

TUKWILA, Wash. -- Municipalities across Washington are facing some difficult budget challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mayor in the City of Tukwila said administration estimates $6.1 million in lost revenue by the end of May.

David Cline, City of Tukwila Administrator, said officials will continue discussing safe and feasible options with labor partners towards the best solution for the community.

“We want to be proactive. We care about this community, we want to make sure that we’re making good decisions that our mayor and council are well informed,” said Cline.

Cline said the city has already seen a $4 million loss of revenue since the beginning of the outbreak.

“A lot of the economic activity is shut down. We’ll be losing sales tax and admissions tax and business tax and gambling tax,” said Cline.

In March, Mayor Allan Ekberg announced a five-part plan to help balance the budget during the health crisis, which consists of:
• Hiring freeze
• Canceling travel
• Furloughing part-time temporary staff
• Eliminating transfer to capital project funds
• Reducing overtime

In a note to the community, Ekberg said the plan will save about $4 million.

“We have not cut anyone’s pay, we have not cut anyone’s hours, and we’ve just begun that conversation with our labor partners. This is going to be difficult decisions that our mayor and council will be working with the community on,” said Cline.

The mayor also announced operational and overtime changes within the Tukwila Fire Department. Fire Chief Jay Wittwer explained the changes happening at Station 52 in a video posted to Facebook. Part of it includes Station 52 firefighters using an aid car instead of a fire engine when responding to calls.

“On days where there is an unscheduled absence in the fire department that results in being on-shift as opposed to the usual 13-18, the aid unit will be put in service at Fire Station 52 in place of the engine,” said Wittwer in the video posted to Facebook.

Cline said the after reviewing call volume, the city saw a reduction in fire calls during the coronavirus outbreak.

“More than 70 percent of their calls are for aid. Just that one change is going to save us over a quarter million dollars,” said Cline.

“The most recent analysis shows that Fire Station 52 would be the most appropriate station to change this service level. This station has the least amount of calls, less than 3 per day. If an aid car was in service, it would move less than 1 call per day to another station, while still maintaining our overall City-adopted time response level. This data results from the recent Council request to bring in an outside review of the Fire Department,” said Ekberg in his note to the community.

“Calls for emergency medical are the highest call volume at fire station 52, so placing the aid car at the station makes sense,” said Wittwer in a video posted to Facebook.

Ricky Walsh, vice president of the International Association of 7th District, said he worries the decision will put community safety at risk. He says be believes the choice was premature and suggests the mayor, fire chief and city leaders reconsider.

“So we don’t have to have the citizens actually out there suffer with slow responses or no responses,” said Walsh.

Walsh said IAFF 7th District serves fire fighters at 250 works sites in Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. He said he has of all the work sites they support, not one has made operational changes during the pandemic.

“This one here came out of the blue. I think it’s just a bad decision by the City of Tukwila,” said Walsh.

Tukwila City Council’s community service and safety committee, as well as its finance committee will meet Monday evening. The city council meeting is scheduled to follow.