Nov. 16 seemed like a good night for Fire District 3.
The Board of Fire Commissioners for Clark County Fire District 3 passed the 2017 Budget during its meeting. In addition, Chief Steve Wrightson reported that the fire district is debt-free, financially secure and has a balanced budget with another clean audit behind it, according to a FD3 statement.
But there are some reasons for concern as well.
According to Wrightson, emergency calls from the fire district alone are up by almost 32 percent. Wrightson went on to explain that FD3 is limited to only a 1 percent revenue increase per year by state law.
Wrightson said that revenue just isn’t keeping up with the demand of a rising population, with the population having grown about 9 to 10 percent in the last decade. Wrightson said that while the district is financially secure right now, things are tight and there needs to be an increase in revenue if they hope to keep pace with the rising population.
If revenue continues to stagnate — which could prove problematic as the community continues to grow — it will result in a stagnant staff as well as slower response times.
FD3 explained that “More calls mean added costs for apparatus and facilities maintenance, equipment and supplies, and personnel.” Given that these are not costs controlled by the fire district, Fire District 3 has been forced to fund daily operations from its emergency reserve fund for several years.
Wrightson said that to solidify what the district currently has, and to “grow slowly with staffing” in accordance with population growth, a new levy needs to be passed.
“If we can keep our staffing up we can keep our response times under control.”
Because of FD3’s gradual implementation of new staff and other necessities for operation and by living within their means, they have been able to stay out of debt thus far.
As reported by The Reflector in early November, FD3 has already implemented the use of SUVs as a means of savings and efficiency, which has amounted to around $35,000 in savings a year. In addition to more SUV usage, FD3 has been able to cut down on costs by using squad vehicles, flatbed crew cabs with a smaller water tank that runs on diesel for some calls. They also staff around 10-12 student interns, who only cost the district $200 a month each for a stipend.
One element that the fire district says has helped is contracting with the city of Battle Ground, a partnership that is coming up on its one-year anniversary. Through the partnership, more staff have been added to stations in FD3, which in turn has improved response time, especially when multiple emergency calls are coming in at once.
The district stated that emergency operations at FD3 are funded with a fire levy paid through property taxes. Over time the fire levy rate falls and voters have the option to restore funding through a 'lid lift'. A decrease of $1.42 to $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed property value is projected for FD 3’s levy in 2017.
The fire district plans on discussing the potential to ask voters to return it to $1.42 per $1,000 in an attempt to meet the increasing demand. The most they could ask for is $1.50, but instead of trying to “max out” as Wrightson described it, they hope only to return to $1.42. For a 13-cent lid lift, it would cost an additional $52 per year ($4.33 per month) for a property valued at $400,000. The last voter approved lid lift for emergency services happened in 2006. The district also noted that “the city pays the same levy rate based on its total assessed valuation as fire district taxpayers.”