By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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The closure of the district’s Deer Park and Black Diamond stations were two of 17 cuts the three Fire District No. 2 commissioners unanimously authorized Tuesday night if voters do not approve the district’s request to raise its maintenance-and-operations property tax levy by 29 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation in the Nov. 4 general election, Fire Chief Sam Phillips said Wednesday.
“This is our plan if the levy fails,” Phillips said.
“These are the consequences if the levy fails.”
The levy measure failure also would mean no money for four full-time firefighter/paramedic positions currently funded by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant set to expire in September, Phillips said.
He said he could not yet say whether the elimination of the positions would lead directly to layoffs, since the money for the positions funds a combination of individual full-time and part-time personnel.
“The board asked me to look into any way to redirect current funds to keep those positions, and [fire district staff] will be reporting back to the board next month,” Phillips said.
The district would still have volunteer paramedics for medical calls, Phillips added.
The district currently levies 76 cents per $1,000 for fire protection.
If approved in November, the measure would increase taxes $58 a year on a $200,000 home and generate an estimated $278,858 per year for the district’s maintenance-and-operations costs, Phillips said.
District commissioners voted last month to put the increase request to voters.
If voters approve the increase, the total amount of the fire district’s property tax levy would be $1.05 per $1,000 valuation.
In November 2013, voters defeated a proposal to increase the levy by 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed evaluation to fund round-the-clock emergency medical service.
Phillips said the district has not passed a maintenance-and-operations levy increase in 30 years and needs one to keep up with increasing costs, such as fuel and utilities.
“Costs are going up, yet our revenues are not keeping up with these costs,” Phillips said.
“We need to have this operating levy so we can continue that level of emergency response.”
Closing the Deer Park and Black Diamond stations would mean emergency crews would no longer be called to those stations and respond from them, he said.
The effect could be twofold, increasing response times and leading to higher fire insurance rates, Phillips said.
Closure of the two stations would mean that crews from the district’s two other stations at Gales Addition and Dry Creek would respond to calls in the Deer Park and Black Diamond areas.
“Absolutely, I think this will increase response time,” Phillips said.
Additionally, closing the two stations would mean they would no longer be counted in the fire district’s Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau score.
This score, currently at a 7, with 10 being the worst, influences fire insurance rates for both residents and businesses, Phillips said.
If the stations are no longer counted, Phillips estimated fire insurance costs for homeowners in those areas could increase 31 percent in some cases.
Other cuts authorized Tuesday night include charging $25 for a currently free residential burn permit and raising the price for commercial land-clearing permits from $100 to $200, according to Phillips.
Responses to burn complaints, smoke investigations and calls outside the district — except where a mutual aid agreement exists — also would be stopped as part of the cuts, Phillips said.
Fire District No. 2 also would stop providing standby crews for such community events as the annual Fourth of July fireworks show in Port Angeles and the first-aid booth at the Clallam County Fair, held each August.
The 95 percent-volunteer Fire District No. 2 covers 85 square miles that include Dry Creek, Black Diamond, Lake Sutherland and Gales Addition, and serves about 9,500 residents.
Jefferson County Fire District No. 2, which serves the Quilcene area, is also planning to ask voters to lift the lid on its property tax levy by 50 cents per $1,000 in the November election.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.