Voters approving East County Fire and Rescue’s levy ‘lid lift’

Second time's a charm for rural fire district's ballot proposition

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East County Fire and Rescue Fire Captain James Troutman (left) and part-time firefighter-EMT Nollan Charles (right) show the inner contents of ECFR Station 91's $400,000 fire engine, purchased in 2018, with equipment reserves. The district needed a new engine, but had tight budget constraints, so did not go for one with "all the bells and whistles," said former Fire Chief Nick Swinhart (not pictured).

Voters gave a thumbs up to East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) in yesterday’s primary election.

With approximately 80 percent of the votes counted on Tuesday night, 59 percent of voters had approved ECFR’s proposition to restore levy rates to the $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value (APV) rate originally approved by voters in 2008.

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

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.

Voters rejected the district’s “lid lift” request in the November 2018 midterm elections and ECFR leaders made were forced to make budget cuts.

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.

The passage of the levy lid lift should restore services to those browned-out stations.

The next vote count will be taken today at 5 p.m. The Aug. 6 primary election had a 20 percent voter turnout. The proposition needs a simple majority to win.

Carnes was unavailable for comment this afternoon. Look for more on this story in next week’s Post-Record.