PORT ANGELES — Fire Chief Jake Patterson knows that being in the middle of a money-crunching coronavirus pandemic is not the best time for Clallam County Fire District 2 to ask for a levy increase.
But the district has little choice, Patterson said Wednesday.
District 2 is asking its 7,000 voters to approve a ballot measure in the Aug. 4 primary that would impose a 58 percent levy rate hike of 50 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.
Ballots were mailed July 15 and are due by Aug. 4 at county drop-boxes or at the county auditor’s office.
The district’s voting precincts include Freshwater Bay, Dry Creek, Madison Creek, Black Diamond, Belleview, Mount Angeles, Mount Pleasant and Deer Park.
The measure’s revenues would pay for two first-responder staff at the Dry Creek station and establish a fund to replace the district’s decades-old vehicles.
The rate hike would add $100 in taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home.
That homeowner is, in all likelihood, a Port Angeles School District resident who already will be paying $524 more in 2021 for a capital levy voters approved Feb. 11.
Most fire district voters live in the school district, according to the county elections office.
“2020 is not an ideal time to ask for a fire levy increase, ” said Patterson, a Sequim resident a year at the district’s helm after serving as deputy chief.
“I’m happy with the school district, but there’s no doubt about it, it’s never easy to go to the public with hat in hand, asking for money.
“We are their fire district, and we provide that vital service to the community, and we do it the best we can.”
Opposed to measure
Fire district voter Glenn Cutler, the former Port Angeles public works director, said he is voting against the measure.
“I don’t support this levy lid lift at this point in time because they haven’t given the public sufficient time to digest and understand it,” he said Monday.
“I don’t think, at least so far, that they’ve done a good outreach to the community.”
The school levy is already costing him $1,000 a year, he said.
“I’m not pleading poverty by any means,” Cutler said.
“If it makes sense, I will support it.”
If approved, the tax rate would increase from 86 cents for each $1,000 of property value to $1.36 per $1,000.
It would replace a levy lid lift voters approved in 2014.
That measure was fueled by a rate that shrank from $1.07 per $1,000 to 86 cents per $1,000 as property values increased and as gradually less per $1,000 in taxes was needed to reach the revenue limit.
Tax increases over 1 percent a year must be approved by voters. The district must reduce the levy amount collected each year to stay within the 1 percent limit on revenue.
That’s why the $1.07 rate approved in 2014 had to be lowered, district officials said.
County Chief Appraiser Daniel Childress said this week property values have increased by an “off the cuff” median estimate of 6 percent to 8 percent annually in Clallam County since 2012.
The district collected $1.06 million in levy funding in 2015 compared with $1.14 million it will collect 2020.
Those revenues support a 2020 budget of $1.6 million that includes $350,000 in ambulance-transport revenue.
Revenue includes additional tax proceeds from new construction.
The 2014 levy covered expenditures for three full-time firefighter-paramedics and three full-time firefighter-emergency medical technicians.
The Dry Creek station is staffed solely by volunteers from among the average 45 volunteers who earn $15 per fire call, Patterson said.
The new levy would generate $660,000 annually.
Of that amount, $191,000 to $200,000 would pay for one firefighter-paramedic and one firefighter emergency medical technician who would staff the station from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The firefighter-EMT salary would be $41,400 with an annual cost of $80,400, including benefits.
The firefighter-paramedic salary would be $52,200, with an annual cost of $92,600, including benefits.
Over the last six years, emergency calls have increased by 83 percent. Of those, 76 percent were medical.
Patterson said the average response time in 2014 from the Dry Creek station was 9 minutes, 30 seconds. The 2020 average is 13 minutes.
About 40 percent of the district’s call volume is served by the Dry Creek station.
The remaining $460,000 generated by the levy would seed a revolving fund to buy apparatus and vehicles “without having to go back to voters,” Patterson said.
A new fire engine costs $400,000 to $500,000, according to the district.
He said two water tenders and three engines that are 20 years old should be replaced in five or six years.
A fire district committee that began meeting in fall 2019 decided on the ballot measure’s levy rate and priorities for funding.
“They made the decision that the needs of the district currently will only continue to [increase] more and more by putting this off, and that putting this off would get us farther and farther behind,” Patterson said.
He predicted service levels could suffer if the levy fails.
Even waiting one more year, when the pandemic may have abated or a vaccine quelled it, was not a viable option, he said.
“That can has been kicked down the road long enough,” Patterson said.
More fire district information on the levy is at tinyurl.com/PDN-FireLevy.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].