Orting residents have received mail-in ballots to vote on a fire district levy that would generate $825,000 in annual revenue, covering a four-year period through 2017.
Orting Valley Fire & Rescue, Fire District No. 18, is requesting funds for district maintenance and operations, according to the voters pamphlet and Pierce County Elections.
“We wouldn’t ask if we didn’t think we needed (the funds),” said Zane Gibson, the district’s fire chief. “We aren’t trying to do anything new we are just trying to keep the lights on.”
If approved in the April 23 election, Proposition 1 would authorize the district to collect $825,000 annually, at an approximate rate of 89 to 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Gibson said this levy approach is unique because it sets an annual benchmark, rather than establishing a set cents-per-thousand tax amount. The cents per $1,000 of assessed property value will adjust as property values fluctuate over the four-year period in order to meet the annual $825,000 revenue amount set by the fire commissioners.
The fire district’s resources have diminished 30 percent since 2009, according to the statement in support of the measure. An against statement was not submitted for the proposition.
Loss of revenue resulted from a combination of a struggling national economy and declining property values. Gibson said the levy’s passage would replenish operating funds to 2009 levels.
If voters strike down the levy, further cutbacks will be made to the department that could lead to reduction in services. Gibson said that likely will result in loss of full-time staff, volunteer positions and ambulance services.
Currently, the district offers ambulance services at no cost to residents. Gibson said the district bills insurance, but residents aren’t responsible for any co-pays or deductibles. Failure of the levy would result in privatized ambulance services, which will increase response times and cost residents money, Gibson said.
“Our ambulance response times will dramatically increase (if the levy fails),” Gibson said.
The district has maintained its level of emergency services despite the cuts made to its operations over the last few years, Gibson said.
Fire commissioners in December voted on a resolution to bring the levy to a vote, in anticipation of a 2 percent reduction in operating costs projected next year.
Orting Valley Fire & Rescue covers about 34 square miles and has an annual operating budget between 2.6 and 2.9 million, Gibson said. Station 40 in downtown Orting is staffed 24 hours a day with at least one paramedic and three firefighters assigned daily. Volunteers supplement the full-time staff, and the district handles about 1,500 emergency calls annually, according to the fire district’s website.
Gibson said response times vary, but range from 4-6 minutes. He said response times would take a hit if the levy fails.
If Proposition 1 passes and the tax is levied through 2017, a total sum of $3.3 million in revenue will be collected over four years from taxable properties within the district’s boundaries. To pass, the measure needs 1,461 yes votes plus a 60 percent favorable margin.
Ballots must be postmarked and submitted by 8 p.m. April 23. Seven of the county’s ballot drop boxes are open for the spring election. For information on active drop boxes and voting centers, visit piercecountywa.org/elections.
SOME OF THE DISTRICT’S REDUCTIONS SINCE 2009:
Orting Valley Fire & Rescue resources have been reduced 30 percent since 2009. Some of these budget cuts include:
-Approximately $73,000 in firefighter and staff salary concessions;
-A vacant staff position left unfilled, resulting in a $50,000 reduction in staff salary;
-$30,000 reduction in training programs and another $30,000 cutback in volunteer reimbursements;
-Change of insurance companies, resulting in $16,000 in savings;
- Reduction of legal fees as result of insurance change, $15,000 in savings;
-Restructure of cleaning supply purchases $1,500.
Source: Fire district’s website, levy’s explanatory statement
Kari Plog: 253-597-8682