Fire district moves levy, bond talks to 2023

Finalizing budget, strategic plan are priorities, chief says

Leaders with Clallam County Fire District 3 say any decision(s) for a potential future levy lid lift and/or bond will pick up again sometime early next year.

Fire Chief Ben Andrews said in a phone interview that commissioners will look to finalize the 2023 budget first, and then resume discussions about pursuing more potential staffing, and new fire stations, and apparatuses.

Fire commissioners and staff have been talking with consultant Liz Loomis as she worked with the district on its last levy lid lift in 2018. It passed to increase the levy rate from $1.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to maintain services, according to staff.

Fire district staff estimate the district’s levy rate being between $1.13-$1.14 next year.

Sequim’s property rates have reached median all-time highs in the last year, and at an Oct. 4 fire commissioner meeting, Loomis said when property values go up, levy rates go down.

She said bonds are financed over a longer period of time with less out of pocket for taxpayers annually while costing more over several years as a whole.

“People do see the value of emergency services … (it) ranks pretty high,” she said when looking at other voter-approved levies/bonds.

The district’s general levy was first approved by voters in 2004 at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value when the rate was at $1.26 per $1,000.

Fire commissioner Steve Chinn said “since the last levy lid lift, we’ve done really well and we’re blessed to have the support of the community.”

“We need to keep the education going … and having the community always aware of what we’re doing that may be the point that’s going to be key,” he said.

When asked about how to have a successful levy and/or bond, Loomis said it’s important to have a clear list of needs and what the additional revenue funds, and have those clearly communicated to voters.

Andrews said they’re not prepared to say how much the district needs yet because they need to finish a Strategic Plan for 2023, and then a Facilities Plan and an Apparatus Plan for 2024.

In an interview, he said the Strategic Plan may reorder when some plans are done.

“We know we need at least a new Carlsborg station, a Dungeness station and a significant remodel of the Sequim station and that’s roughly $15 to $20 million in facilities,” he said at the Oct. 4 meeting.

Andrews told Loomis the board was nervous about going to voters twice for a levy lid lift and a bond.

Loomis said she’d normally recommend a bond first because it’s typically harder to pass with a supermajority vote required, but a levy lid lift is important “before it becomes too steep of an ask.”

If they were to go to voters in August 2023 for a levy lid lift at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value and it doesn’t pass, she said the district could go back for a smaller amount in November.

Andrews said in an interview, no timelines or recommendations have been set.

“We still have a lot more research to do on the needs and impact on the community,” he said.

That includes research into the assessed median values of properties in the area, Andrews said.

If a levy lid lift vote passed in 2023, the district would collect the funds in 2024, district staff said.

“Transparency is critical,” Loomis said. “Your fire district is great about being transparent.”

Fire district staff anticipate more than 8,050 calls for service this year with 8,404 calls recorded in 2021, 7,316 in 2020, and 7,680 in 2019.

The fire district currently employs 42 full-time firefighters. Andrews said since passing the 2018 levy lid lift, some of the additions/changes include adding a fifth person to each shift at Station 34 (Sequim), a third person on each shift at Station 33 (Carlsborg), added a low acuity unit four days a week, put new chassis on three ambulances, set a plan to add battalion chiefs in 2023 to each shift, and moved administrative offices to Carlsborg and restructured Station 34 for more sleep quarters.

For more information about Clallam County Fire District 3, call 360-683-4242 or visit www.ccfd3.org.