Fire District 3 commissioners to place levy lid lift on November ballot

Voters in the Sequim area and a small part of East Jefferson County will consider this November a proposed levy lid lift for Clallam County Fire District 3.

District officials say that the levy would allow the district to maintain current service levels.

District commissioners voted 3-0 on July 3 to place the measure on Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The proposal would “lift” the levy rate for district property owners from $1.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

If approved, the owner of a $250,000 home would pay an additional $60 in property taxes to the fire district in 2019.

From 2020 to 2024, the levy rate would be tied to the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue consumer price index (CPI) with an annual cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Officials say a levy lid lift is needed to allow the district to keep up with the cost of doing business.

“I think that we’ve demonstrated in the last several months that the district needs to increase its revenues just to maintain our current levels of service,” Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews told commissioners last week.

“Right now, our revenues are the same as our expense. We are not putting anything away in reserves for capital replacement. We don’t have anything available to add additional staffing as needed.”

Without a levy lid lift, Fire District 3 would forced to cut services and staff in 2022, according to Andrews’ projections.

The proposed levy lid lift with a CPI-based inflator would generate more than $1 million in new revenue for the fire district in 2019 and about $8.3 million over six years, Andrews said.

A levy lid with without a CPI inflator would generate the same amount next year and $6.7 million over six years.

“By going to a CPI-based inflator, which costs the ($250,000) home owner $90 more over six years, it generates an additional $1.6 million for the fire district over the same six years,” Andrews said.

“Obviously, that gives us a lot more capacity to possibly add staff and to be able to fully fund a reasonable capital replacement plan. It will also push out further a need for us to come back and do another lid lift,” he added.

District officials emphasized that the $1.50 per $1,000 cap would remain regardless of changes to the consumer price index.

“I don’t want the public to think this is going to be a runaway tax situation, because it’s not,” Commissioner Michael Gawley said.

District voters approved a $1.50 levy rate in 2004. The levy has dropped to $1.26 as property values have increased.

Meanwhile, the cost of providing fire protection and emergency medical services to the 30,000 residents in the 142-square mile district has increased by about 3.5 percent per year, Andrews said.

The district’s $9 million annual budget is funded by a general levy (68 percent), an EMS levy (26 percent) and other revenues like charges for service (3 percent), timber tax funds (2 percent) and donations and grants (1 percent).

Fire District 3, which runs from Deer Park Road to Gardiner, responds to about 7,300 emergency calls per year.

“We need to keep up our level of performance here, and it’s evident looking at the long-term picture that we’re going to be in a decline without additional revenue,” Gawley said.

Read more about the Clallam County Fire District 3 levy lid lift proposal here: https://ccfd3.org/uploads/Levy%20Information/Emergency%20Services%20Update%202018%20-%200612.pdf.

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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