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Many of Yakima's fire trucks have been out for repair lately.The city is looking for funds to replace them

The past year was rough for the Yakima Fire Department’s fleet of firetrucks and engines.

At times, up to three firetrucks were out of service for repairs, with the city’s largest ladder truck sent to Oregon for work, said Deputy Fire Chief Jeremy Rodriguez.

“We try to keep everything going the best we can,” Rodriguez said.

Fire Chief Aaron Markham and city officials discussed a plan for allocating $1 million a year in the city budget for maintaining and replacing fire equipment. Markham told City Council members during a study session Tuesday that the department is hoping to buy two new trucks next year.

The department has 16 trucks and engines, including two ladder trucks, eight engines, two brush trucks and a water tender.

In recent weeks, the city’s largest ladder truck and two engines were down for repairs — nearly a quarter of the trucks and engines. Rodriguez said the engines being down didn’t affect the department’s coverage, as three engines and a truck in reserve were pressed into service to cover for the vehicles. It would have presented an issue if additional crews were called in and no vehicles were available, though, Rodriguez said.

The department strives to do most repairs at its shop in the former Fruitvale fire station, where the department’s two mechanics keep the fleet running.

“The mechanics have been Johnny on the spot,” Rodriquez said. “They have stepped up.”

He said the department has had to shift funding to help cover repairs, as well as overtime for the mechanics. But he said the priority is keeping the trucks running and in safe condition.

Markham told the council that the department had made “significant repairs” in front-line units, including replacing a pump in one vehicle, which Markham suggested using for training as the truck as a whole is near the end of its life.

The department planned to replace two fire engines this year, but he said it was not feasible since it takes about a year to build one. He said his plan is to provide the city with a final bid, which would give the city an exact cost.

The equipment would be delivered to the city in 2022.

Markham said that does not buy the city much breathing room for replacing trucks.

“As lengthy as this process is, the reality is by the time we reach 2022, we would have three apparatus due to be replaced,” Markham said.

He suggested postponing the purchase of the third apparatus until 2024, creating a better spacing as trucks age.

Steve Groom, the city’s finance and budget director, said the city is looking at ways to build into the budget a $1 million annual funding for equipment replacement in the fire department, starting in the 2022 budget. The money would be realized through savings and improving efficiency, among other things.

“The focus is on managing savings in the budget and capture savings through rebudgeting,” Groom said, as well as staggering purchases.

Police vehicles

Groom said the city is also looking at allocating $1 million annually for replacing police vehicles.

Police Chief Matt Murray said almost all of YPD’s fleet is beyond its typical operating life. In 2014, the city agreed to provide patrol officers with patrol vehicles to take home, a contract provision that expired in 2019 and Murray said the department is reviewing on whether to continue.

“Take-home vehicles last longer, but it will be cheaper if officers don’t have a take-home vehicle,” Murray said.

Murray said the fleet could be replaced on a regular schedule with $1 million a year.


Business
AP
Slower mail, fewer office hours part of Postal Service plans

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday announced plans to slow mail delivery standards and cut hours at some post offices as part of a 10-year strategy to stabilize the struggling agency.

Details of the long-awaited plan come at a time of intense scrutiny on the U.S. Postal Service over persistent delivery delays under DeJoy, a major GOP donor who took over the agency last summer. The plan also includes a proposal to consolidate underused post offices, hinted at a potential postage rate increase and detailed investments in new delivery vehicles, among other things.

Facing an expected $160 billion in losses over the next decade, DeJoy and postal executives stressed the need to cut costs and modernize the agency’s operations as its workload increasingly shifts from handling letters to hauling more and more packages.

“This is about the long-term viability of the organization under the two missions that we have that are legislated, that is deliver to every house six days a week and be self-sustaining,” DeJoy said. He announced the plans at a webinar with other Postal Service officials.

DeJoy said the biggest change would be a relaxing of the current first-class letter delivery standard of one-to-three-days to a one-to-five-day benchmark. Postal leadership said the longer timeframe would apply only to mail going to the farthest reaches of its network and that 70% of first-class mail will still be delivered within a three-day standard.

The agency said it will subject potential changes to delivery standards, as well as several other parts of their plan, to a formal rulemaking process and advisory opinions from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission before they go into effect.

Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who has been critical of DeJoy, cautioned that any reduction of delivery standards would have a big impact on customers.

“While I understand Postal Service leadership’s desire to set long-term goals, I am concerned that several of the initiatives in this plan will harm service for folks across the country who rely on the Postal Service for prescription drugs, financial documents, running their small businesses, and more,” said Peters.

Democrats have repeatedly called for DeJoy to be removed from his post as delivery times have lagged across the country. Late last month, President Joe Biden named three nominees to the agency’s governing board, which if approved, would give Democrats and Democratic appointees a majority on the panel and the ability to oust DeJoy through a vote. Currently, all six of the board’s members were appointed by former President Donald Trump. The White House didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO who took over the Postal Service last June, has been mired in controversy since taking over the agency.

Shortly after taking the position, DeJoy carried out a series of controversial policy changes that delayed mail before the 2020 election, fueling worry that he was sabotaging the agency on behalf of Trump, a vocal critic of mail-in voting. DeJoy has strongly disputed that claim and eventually suspended some of his changes following intense public pushback and a crush of legal challenges.

Despite the concerns, the agency said it processed and delivered at least 135 million ballots during the general election and that 99.7% of ballots were delivered to election officials within five days.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said the plan included some positive elements but urged the agency to prioritize on-time deliveries and other service standards.

“Any proposals that would either slow the mail, reduce access to post offices, or further pursue the failed strategy of plant consolidation will need to be addressed,” he said in a statement. “The APWU will proactively engage with USPS’s managers, the Postal Regulatory Commission, leaders in Congress and the public to address these issues.”

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Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York.

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Associated Press coverage of voting rights receives support in part from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


National
AP
Colorado suspect got assault weapon 6 days before shooting

BOULDER, Colo. — The suspect accused of opening fire inside a crowded Colorado supermarket was a 21-year-old man who purchased an assault weapon less than a week earlier, authorities said Tuesday, a day after the attack that killed 10 people, including a police officer.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa bought the weapon on March 16, just six days before the attack at a King Soopers store in Boulder, according to an arrest affidavit. It was not immediately known where the gun was purchased.

Alissa, who is from the Denver suburb of Arvada, was booked into the county jail Tuesday on murder charges after being treated at a hospital. He was due to make a first court appearance Thursday.

Investigators have not established a motive, but they believe Alissa was the only shooter, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.

A law enforcement official briefed on the shooting said the suspect’s family told investigators they believed Alissa was suffering some type of mental illness, including delusions. Relatives described times when Alissa told them people were following or chasing him, which they said may have contributed to the violence, the official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The attack was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since a 2019 assault on a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman killed 22 people in a rampage that police said targeted Mexicans.

In Washington, President Joe Biden called on Congress to tighten the nation’s gun laws.

“Ten lives have been lost, and more families have been shattered by gun violence in the state of Colorado,” Biden said at the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to bring forward two House-passed bills to require expanded background checks for gun buyers. Biden supports the measures, but they face a tougher route to passage in a closely divided Senate with a slim Democratic majority.

The shooting came 10 days after a judge blocked a ban on assault rifles passed by the city of Boulder in 2018. That ordinance and another banning large-capacity magazines came after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

A lawsuit challenging the bans was filed quickly, backed by the National Rifle Association. The judge struck down the ordinance under a Colorado law that blocks cities from making their own rules about guns.

Supermarket employees told investigators that Alissa shot a man multiple times outside the Boulder grocery store before going inside, according to the affidavit. Another person was found shot in a vehicle next to a car registered to the suspect’s brother.

The gunfire sent terrorized shoppers and employees scrambling for cover. SWAT officers carrying ballistic shields slowly approached the store while others escorted frightened people away from the building, which had some of its windows shattered. Customers and employees fled through a back loading dock to safety. Others took refuge in nearby shops.

Multiple 911 calls paint a picture of a chaotic, terrifying scene, according to the affidavit.

One caller said the suspect opened fire out the window of his vehicle. Others called to say they were hiding inside the store as the gunman fired on customers. Witnesses described the shooter as having a black AR-15-style gun and wearing blue jeans and maybe body armor.

By the time he was in custody, Alissa had been struck by a bullet that passed through his leg, the affidavit said. He had removed most of his clothing and was dressed only in shorts. Inside the store, he had left the gun, a tactical vest, a semiautomatic handgun and his bloodied clothing, the affidavit said.

After the shooting, detectives went to Alissa’s home and found his sister-in-law, who told them that he had been playing around with a weapon she thought looked like a “machine gun,” about two days earlier, the document said.

No one answered the door at the Arvada home believed to be owned by the suspect’s father. The two-story house with a three-car garage sits in a relatively new middle- and upper-class neighborhood.

When he was a high school senior in 2018, Alissa was found guilty of assaulting a fellow student in class after knocking him to the floor, then climbing on top of him and punching him in the head several times, according to a police affidavit.

Alissa “got up in classroom, walked over to the victim & ‘cold cocked’ him in the head,” the affidavit read. Alissa complained that the student had made fun of him and called him “racial names” weeks earlier, according to the affidavit. He was sentenced to probation and community service.

Arvada police Detective David Snelling said officers investigated but dropped a separate criminal mischief complaint involving the suspect in 2018 and cited him for speeding in February. “Our community is obviously concerned and upset that the suspect lived here,” he said.

“We’d absolutely prefer not to have publicity we’re getting here,” said Matt Benz, who lives several houses away from the home that was searched overnight. He said dozens of FBI agents wearing night-vision goggles swarmed the area using a bullhorn to order everyone out of the home and interviewing the home’s occupants.

The slain officer was identified as Eric Talley, 51, who had been with the force since 2010. He was the first to arrive after responding to a call about shots fired and someone carrying a gun, she said.

Homer Talley, 74, described his son as a devoted father who “knew the Lord.” He had seven children, ages 7 to 20.

“We know where he is,” his father told The Associated Press from his ranch in central Texas. “He loved his family more than anything. He wasn’t afraid of dying. He was afraid of putting them through it.”

The other dead ranged in age from 20 to 65. They were identified as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jodi Waters, 65.

Leiker, Olds and Stong worked at the supermarket, former co-worker Jordan Sailas said.

Olds’ grandmother choked up on the phone as she described the young woman she played a large role in raising. “She was just a very kind and loving, bubbly person who lit up the room when she walked in,” said Jeanette Olds, 71, of Lafayette, Colorado.

The attack in Boulder, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Denver and home to the University of Colorado, stunned a state that has seen several mass shootings, including the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting.

Monday’s attack was the seventh mass killing this year in the U.S., following the March 16 shooting that left eight people dead at three Atlanta-area massage businesses, according to a database compiled by the AP, USA Today and Northeastern University.

It follows a lull in mass killings during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which had the smallest number of such attacks in eight years, according to the database, which tracks mass killings defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter.

Biden announced that flags nationwide would be lowered in memory of the victims — an order that comes just as a previous flag-lowering proclamation expired for those killed in the Atlanta-area shootings. Together the two orders mean near-continuous national mourning for almost two weeks.

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Slevin reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jim Anderson in Denver and AP staff members from around the U.S. contributed to this report. Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


Astria
spotlight
Astria Health files complaint against former billing collection vendor
  • Updated

In a complaint filed Monday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Astria Health maintains that a former billing collection vendor was to blame for its bankruptcy and, ultimately, Astria Regional Medical Center’s closure early last year.

Astria Health contends that Cerner Corp. and its subsidiary, Cerner RevWorks LLC, made “intentional misrepresentations” before entering a multi-million contract for electronic health record and billing services.

The complaint is part of an adversary proceeding before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Astria Health is seeking damages and wants the court to triple those damages under the premise that Cerner also violated the Washington State Consumer Protection Act. Astria Health also wants the court to void any claims that Cerner Corp. has filed during the organization’s bankruptcy process.

Astria Health, which runs hospitals in Sunnyside and Toppenish and clinics throughout the Yakima Valley, is now operating under a reorganization plan approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in December.

In its complaint, Astria Health gives its recollection of its business relationship with Cerner. Astria claims the company made many “fraudulent misrepresentations” and promises — including that its electronic health system would integrate seamlessly with its revenue collection system — that it never delivered on.

In an emailed statement sent by Anamarie Rebori Simmons, a company spokeswoman, the company said it plans to dispute the allegations.

“We categorically deny the allegations made in the lawsuit, we disagree on the merits and we will vigorously defend the company,” the statement said.

Astria Health states that collections were at 97% of net revenue before installing the new billing collection system in the summer of 2018, falling to 54% of net revenue. It also noted that in Toppenish and Yakima, which serve a high percentage of Medicaid and Medicare patients, claims to government payers were frequently rejected, causing further cash shortfalls in each hospital.

Astria also alleged that Cerner downplayed similar disputes with other health systems and did not disclose ongoing lawsuits with other health systems when Cerner pursued a business deal with Astria Health. The complaint includes a table of news articles about Cerner’s issues with health care systems in Texas, California, Arizona and New York.

Astria Health said Cerner’s inability to collect revenue meant it could not buy supplies and was forced to reduce services, causing additional financial strain. Throughout the complaint, Astria Health states several times that Cerner’s revenue collection systems were directly responsible for the financial issues that led to the closure of Astria Regional Medical Center.

“Cerner’s systems caused Astria hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and harm,” Astria Health wrote in its complaint. “Ultimately, the cash collection issues were so severe that Astria Regional Medical Center, a hospital that had existed for 128 years, was forced to close.”

From the start, Astria Health has contended that issues with revenue collection hampered the organization’s cash flow but initially did not name Cerner in initial bankruptcy filing documents. Cerner ultimately revealed itself when it filed several claims with the bankruptcy court.

It also objected to Astria Regional’s reorganization plan, but ultimately agreed to settle the issues.

The company has continued to provide electronic health record services to Astria Health, and that agreement was renewed following the reorganization plan implementation.

Cerner filed a claim of $9.5 million for services outside revenue collection after Astria Health filed bankruptcy protection and an administrative expense claim of more than $1.2 million for services related to revenue collection services between May 2019 and October 2019.


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