Fire district 3 considering levy lid lift

SEQUIM — Clallam County Fire District 3 is experiencing continued higher call loads at a time when fire officials say the district’s revenues will not be sustainable after this year.

That has led to fire officials investigating options for the district’s commissioners to consider asking voters for a levy lid lift for its general levy sometime this year.

For two consecutive years, the call load has risen above 7,000.

The district covers the east side of Clallam County with a small portion in Jefferson County.

7,224 calls in 2017

In 2017, the district had 7,224 emergency calls with about 86 percent, or 6,187 of those medical calls, said Fire Chief Ben Andrews.

While slightly down from 2016, in which the district had 7,336 emergency calls, the response load has increased annually since 2008 when it received 5,115 emergency calls.

In a consultant study funded by the fire district, it revealed that in 2015, 88 percent of the district’s calls were for basic and advanced life support calls with about 92 percent of those coming from within Sequim city limits.

“All our revenue is going to respond to emergency calls,” Andrews said.

“Personnel have no time for training, building inspections or other duties that are just as important to public safety. We also are unable to put money aside for capital needs, like replacing apparatus and equipment, maintaining facilities or training personnel.”

Fire district officials reported last November the district likely would go into deficit spending in the third quarter of 2019 unless other revenue is obtained.

In 2004, voters approved the general levy of $1.50 per $1,000 on assessed property values, but fire district staff said since then it has gone down to $1.26. It’s one of two property tax levies through which the district receives a majority of its funding.

If a general levy lid lift does go before voters to bring the rate back to $1.50, fire officials report it would cost about $60 more per year to homeowners with a $250,000 home.

Andrews said the fire district has been limited by state law to increase its tax base by 1 percent, which they and other agencies say is not keeping up with inflation.

Additional funds from the levy lid lift would go toward maintaining emergency service levels, improving staffing where possible, training personnel, and funding some facility and apparatus needs.

“We need to be able to meet the demand for service and have enough funds in reserves to weather any storm that may be ahead of us,” Andrews said.

Future concerns

Due to the concern for future finances, fire commissioners turned down a three-year federal grant to add six full-time firefighters to the workforce last September.

It would have given the district about $1.007 million over three years to cover 75 percent of wage and benefit costs in 2018 and 2019 and 35 percent in 2020.

However, it would have cost the district about $1.1 million over three years.

The SAFER, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, grant would have been the first time the district added to its workforce since 2008.

Fire District 3 has 47 full- and part-time employees.

Along with EMS calls, firefighters and paramedics respond to fire suppression, technical rescue, hazardous material spills and vehicle wrecks.

“EMS is the service our community relies on most, but we are really an ‘all hazards’ response agency,” Andrews said.

He said the fire district is now directing all its resources into responding to calls, with no funding available for new staff, apparatuses or to improve or expand facilities.

In preparation for possible levy lid lift discussions, fire district staff anticipates holding informational meetings and speaking with community groups.

Andrews seeks input via email at [email protected] or via mail at “Clallam County Fire District 3 Fire Chief Ben Andrews, 323 N. Fifth Ave., Sequim, WA 98382.”

To reach the fire district, call 360-683-4242 or visit https://ccfd3.org.

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].

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