This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
The ability of several Pierce County fire departments to respond quickly and professionally to emergencies hangs on the outcome of the Aug. 16 election.
Five fire districts are asking voters to renew their support for existing tax levies. Three of the measures fund emergency medical services; the other two are reauthorizations of taxes that cover basic operational expenses.
All deserve voter approval.
• West Pierce Fire & Rescue – a district that covers University Place and Lakewood since their merger earlier this year – is seeking a two-year extension of its maintenance and operation levy, which provides 25 percent of the district’s budget.
The levy would cost the owner of a $250,000 home $270 next year. The rate – $1.08 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2012 and $1.19 in 2012 – is higher than currently charged by the district, but many residents could end up paying less because of declining property values.
Falling assessments have, in fact, sapped fire district revenues to the extent that they are below 2008 levels. Another substantial decline in assessed values is forecast, so district officials and unions have worked hard to pare costs. Pay cuts, eliminated or delayed cost-of-living increases and reductions in longevity pay are among the concessions that have saved the district more than $500,000.
The district reaped another $900,000 in savings from the merger with Lakewood, which allowed for elimination of three assistant chiefs, a captain and four firefighters.
• Central Pierce Fire & Rescue is asking voters to retain the fire benefit charge that accounts for 30 percent of its funding.
The charge is based on the property’s square footage and its use: the higher the cost of providing fire and emergency medical service, the higher the benefit charge. The charge provides more stable funding than a tax levy based solely on property values.
The district has used the fire benefit charge since 1991. Puyallup residents began paying it in 2010 after a voter-approved merger with the fire district.
• Graham Fire & Rescue, the City of DuPont and East Pierce Fire & Rescue have nearly identical requests to renew levies for emergency medical services. Calls for medical treatment and transport often comprise the bulk of a fire department’s requests for service.
The levies are limited by law to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The only difference among them is the length of the levies: Graham and DuPont want six-year extensions, East Pierce is going for 10 years.