John McIntyre, a Clallam County Fire District 3 firefighter/EMT, gives a blood pressure test to Sequim community member Priscilla Hudson. Photo by Linda BarnfatherFire

John McIntyre, a Clallam County Fire District 3 firefighter/EMT, gives a blood pressure test to Sequim community member Priscilla Hudson. Photo by Linda BarnfatherFire

Fire District 3’s levy lid lift passes

Cuts and deficits are now an afterthought for firefighters and paramedics for the immediate future following Clallam voters’ decision to increase Clallam County Fire District 3’s levy lid lift.

Tuesday’s results show 7,801 (60.6 percent) voted in favor of increasing the levy rate from $1.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, while 5,061 voted against the increase.

“The lid lift wasn’t to do new things,” said Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews. “It’s to provide the level we’re at now.

“We weren’t trying to add something; (voters) knew we were just trying to keep the machine going.”

Fire District staff estimates an owner of a $250,000 home would pay an additional $60 in property taxes to the fire district in 2019 and generate more than $1 million in new revenue for the district and about $8.3 million over six years.

Andrews said because they won’t be deficit spending, fire commissioners and staff will discuss how much of the lid lift can support a facilities and apparatus plan.

Fire department leaders will discuss balancing the budget and restoring items, like training and replacing an ambulance, that were cut to make up for the anticipated $300,000 deficit.

“This really restores us back to operating normal,” Andrews said.

The lid lift prevents potential staff and service cuts in 2022, fire district staff said.

The district’s general levy was originally approved by voters in 2004 at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value but has fallen to $1.26. For 2020-2024, the district’s levy rate is tied to the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue consumer price index (CPI) with a cap of $1.50.

Fire District 3’s annual $9 million budget comes from a general levy at 68 percent, an EMS levy at 26 percent, charges for service 3 percent, timber tax funds at 2 percent, and donations and grants at 1 percent.

Since 2011, fire leaders say calls for service increased by 33 percent leaving them practically no time for training. Fire commissioners also turned down a federal grant in Sept. 2017 to add six firefighters but it would have cut $1.1 million into reserves over three years.

But Andrews said with the lid lift in place they may consider applying again.

Fire District 3 officials hosted a number of public meeting and and with community groups to explain some of the constraints of the district’s budget. Through their efforts to share the levy lid lift, Andrews said they didn’t see or hear negative responses from the community.

“We feel we communicated the need to the community well,” he said.

“We actually got a lot of good feedback on how were going about it.”

And while the levy lid lift sets up the district with consistent funding over the next six years, Andrews said that unless the system of funding in Washington state changes — the fire district levy and other junior taxing district levies are constricted by a 1 percent cap per year increase that Washington state voters approved in 2001 — he knows Fire District 3 will be back to ask voters for support in just a few years.

“This is the new normal,” Andrews said. “We don’t want to be back every couple of years (with) voter fatigue.”

Clallam County Fire District 3 covers a 142-square mile district from Gardiner to the east to Bagley Creek to the west with 47 full- and part-time employees and operates three 24-hour stations and four volunteer stations.

For more information, call 360-683-4242 or visit www.ccfd3.org.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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