East County Fire & Rescue: Fire levy ‘lid lift’ to go back on ballot

ECFR commissioners say costs are skyrocketing, revenues stagnating

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ECFR Fire Chief Mike Carnes says a levy lid lift is critical to helping the fire district maintain its services. The district responds to emergency calls in rural areas north of Camas and Washougal. (Post-Record file photo)

Fire commissioners at East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) will again ask voters to support the rural fire district by passing a fire levy lid lift in the August primary election.

If approved, the “lid lift” would restore the fire levy approved in 2008 to its original rate of $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value (APV).

In March, ECFR Fire Chief Mike Carnes told the Post-Record a levy lid

lift was critical to helping the fire district, which responds to fire and emergency medical calls in rural areas north of Camas and Washougal, maintain its services.

“We’ve been belt-tightening,” Carnes said in March. “But there just is no other place to take money away at this point.”

The fire district has seen a 52-percent increase in the number of calls over the past decade, and Carnes said revenues have not been able to keep up with the district’s overhead costs.

Even with a volunteer-heavy force, ECFR still struggles to keep up with annual costs under the state-mandated 1-percent cap on annual property taxes, Carnes said in March.

Voters rejected the district’s “lid lift” request in the November 2018 midterm elections, with 54 percent voting against the levy lid lift, which would have restored the district to its 2008 rate of $1.50 per $1,000 APV.

The current rate has dropped to $1.16 per $1,000 in APV, meaning that a levy lid lift would cost property owners an additional 34 cents per $1,000 APV, per year. The “lid lift” works out to an additional $12.75 a month for the owner of a $450,000 home.

ECFR leaders made budget cuts after the November 2018 “lid lift” failure.

Now, if an ECFR firefighter is on vacation or ill or taking a mandatory “Kelly Day,” which is what it’s called when a firefighter has to take a day off to avoid going over their negotiated hours and earning overtime pay, a station might need to “be browned out” or closed, with available firefighters heading to the district’s Fire Station No. 93, a more centrally located station between Camas and Washougal off Northeast 312th Avenue.

Although centrally located, Carnes explained that Station 93 could pose problems for calls coming from the “other side” or eastern side of the Washougal River since there are only two places for the fire engines to cross the river — and both routes add several minutes to the time it takes first responders to get to a fire or accident or emergency medical call.

In a press release announcing the decision to go out for another levy lid lift in August, ECFR commissioners said the district’s costs associated with emergency response are increasing while revenues have stagnated.

“For example, since 2016, fuel costs have increased 47.6 percent for the fire district. The cost for health insurance for district employees has increased 16.8 percent,” the release stated, adding that higher call volumes have increased overtime pay by 66 percent since 2016.

To learn more about the fire district or the levy lid lift, visit