One-year levy lid lift critical to ECFR

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category icon Columns, Opinion

By Martha Martin
Guest Columnist

To the voters in the East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) District — we heard you.
Requesting a five-year lid lift last year put citizens on overload. We get it.
And, because we want to continue to provide the best emergency service possible and know that you deserve nothing less, we are once again asking to “lift the lid,” but only for a single year.
That’s right. The request is to return the levy rate to its previous 2008 amount of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but only for a single year lift.
Voters will decide this ballot measure in the Aug. 6 primary and special election.
What that means is that, during 2020, taxes collected will be at this levy rate. And then the rate begins its drop once again, as it has in the past. Currently, the levy rate for our district is $1.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and without the lid lift, it will most likely be lower in 2020.

Difficult to maintain services if lid lift fails
Since most of the revenue for the district is levy dollars, it will be difficult to continue to provide the current level of services or maintain district assets in a responsible manner.
Without the lift, the list is long regarding what will need to be reduced or eliminated or at least deferred.
It will be necessary to reduce staffing from two stations to one and maintain 24-hour staffing at our Sunnyside Station 93, which is centrally located in the district.
Depending on your location in the district, response times may increase due to only staffing one station. Since most calls are medical — approximately 80 percent — that could jeopardize those who need quick life-saving response.
We will have to eliminate advanced firefighter training.
The current Class 5 Washington State Rating Bureau rating will likely increase to Class 8 due to staffing shortfalls. The effect will be an increase in fire insurance premiums for homes and businesses.
ECFR will be unable to set aside funds for replacement of apparatus and equipment, as emergency reserves become depleted. The District will have to begin borrowing money, and loans are more expensive for taxpayers due to interest payments.
Our district covers a large rural area, with many homes in places hard to reach. With 60 square miles to cover, it is important that we maintain our staff levels, keep them professionally up to date on their training and provide them with reliable vehicles and equipment. When they roll on a call, you want to know they will get there quickly without any hitches.

ECFR can keep 24-7 coverage on both sides of Washougal River if lid lift passes
With the lid lift, the District will be able to maintain 24-hour staffing at Fern Prairie Station 91 and Mt. Norway Station 94. At least two firefighter/emergency medical technicians (EMTs) will be on duty 24 hours per day at both stations. Response time will be maintained on both sides of the Washougal River.
Advanced firefighter training will be maintained and improved.
We can ensure that the District has adequate reserve funds to improve the financial health of the entire District. It will be possible to replace two 13-year-old squads (4X4 vehicles that carry extra equipment and can fight fast-moving grass fires), which are no longer affordable to maintain and repair. Both these and the necessary replacement of Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus can be paid with cash, from reserve funds, avoiding the need for expensive interest on loan payments.
You can be proud to know that your fire district is doing all it can to watch every penny of your tax dollars. We continue to have a balanced budget each year and have continued to have clean audits with the state of Washington. We are open to your inspection of our process.
We know that you would want us to continue to offer the best service possible; that is why we are asking for this one-year lift. Without it, we will not be able to keep that promise to our citizens. We find that unacceptable and so should you.
With the lid lift, our district will be on firmer ground. We will have the ability to cover the cost of running the district so that the current, excellent levels of service continue.

Martha Martin is a commissioner and Board Chair for East County Fire and Rescue. She is writing this as her own opinion, as is required by state statute. ECFR is running a one-year levy lid lift on the Aug. 6, 2019 ballot. Commissioner Martin can be reached at 360-835-1070.