By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The proposed property tax measure will be the topic of a meeting, sponsored by a citizen group that seeks to drum up support for it, at 6 p.m. today at the fire station at 70 Herbert St.
Fire commissioners unanimously agreed to submit the measure for the Nov. 4 general election ballot Monday.
The measure seeks to raise the current rate of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 50-cent-per-$1,000 increase.
It would need a simple majority to pass.
The current level of fire services would need to be curtailed if the measure doesn’t pass, according to Fire Chief Larry Karp.
“Between the 1 percent limit on annual tax increases, the loss of the timber tax and skyrocketing costs, we cannot sustain our present spending without a levy lid lift in 2014,” Karp said.
“We do not have the funds to continue our resident firefighter program beyond 2014.”
Currently, a property worth $200,000 pays $151.13 annually for fire service. If passed, the measure would raise the amount to $250, according to the Jefferson County Assessor’s Office.
If approved, the measure would generate an additional $160,000 per year for the district.
The primary use of the money would be to subsidize the department’s resident firefighter program, according to Gary Phillips, fire commission chairman.
Karp said Quilcene has two choices: to eliminate the resident firefighter/emergency medical technician program or raise taxes to cover costs.
“There is no other way for the fire district to continue providing all the services we now provide to the community,“ he said.
The resident firefighter program consists of the two firefighter/EMTs who are on duty 24 hours daily to respond to emergencies within Quilcene and Coyle.
“Without the members of the resident firefighter program, we only have two EMT’s that live in Coyle and no certified interior firefighters,” Karp said.
The department — which has two paid staff members, including Karp, and 25 volunteer firefighters — covers an area of 72 square miles and operates three fire stations.
The levy rate was last increased in 1988.
Since that time, Quilcene’s demographics have changed, Phillips said.
“We used to be a timber town and got a lot of DNR [Department of Natural Resources] revenue, but that stopped after the spotted owl decision,” he said, referring to a 1991 decision by Federal District Judge William L. Dwyer to protect habitat for the northern spotted owl that resulted in restricted logging in Pacific Northwest old-growth forests.
“People moved away, and we have become a retirement community,” Phillips said.
“A lot of the younger people in Quilcene commute elsewhere, so they don’t have the time to volunteer,” he added.
Both Karp and Phillips are restricted from campaigning for or against a measure.
They can only provide factual data and projections about what will happen if the measure is passed or defeated.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.