The completion of 2016 marked the first calendar year of Clark County Fire District 3 (FD3) contracting with the City of Battle Ground and according to both the city and FD3, it has been a success.
Battle Ground had previously contracted with Clark County Fire & Rescue for fire and emergency services, before city officials made the decision to switch towards the end of 2015. The contract began on January 1, 2016 and is set to expire on December 31, 2021.
“This contract came at a good time for Fire District 3. The partnership has helped us staff more stations in the fire district and respond faster to multiple emergency calls that come in at the same time,” said FD3 Chief Steve Wrightson.
Battle Ground City Manager Jeff Swanson added in a statement from FD3 that "public safety is the city's number one priority. Fire and EMS services alone account for 20 percent of our general fund budget. Since contracting with Fire District 3 we have seen improved emergency services and more effective use of city resources."
One improvement brought on by contract has been the ability to staff fire stations in both jurisdictions they serve, which is made up of approximately 40,000 people and 84 square miles.
FD3 had staffed two stations full-time prior to the contact: Station 31, which serves Hockinson, Finn Hill, and Brush Prairie, along with Station 33 which serves Battle Ground Lake, Heisson and Lucia Falls.
For Battle Ground, the city used a different emergency services provider to staff Station 35 with a full-time crew.
Since the contract, FD3 now has a single 24-hour crew and a 12-hour split crew at Station 35 for emergencies. The split crew also serves Station 32, which serves Venersborg and Bells Mountain, in the fire district for 12 hours each day during “peak call times.”
This, according to FD3, has helped them “respond better to multiple emergency calls that come in at the same time throughout the fire district” and that during the last 12 months, their partnership with the city has “improved the emergency response for families and businesses in both areas.”
Before contracting with the city, FD3 responded to emergency calls in the city through a mutual aid agreement, meaning the closest unit responded to an emergency. Multiple calls into the city were funded by FD3 without any reimbursement to taxpayers.
Now, with the contract in place, the costs for those emergency calls are covered.
In its statement, FD3 outlined priorities for emergency services in both jurisdictions going forward: “responding to higher call volumes, maintaining the fire district’s insurance rating, and developing a sustainable plan for emergency services funding for the city.”
A total of 3,550 emergency calls — close to 66 percent for emergency medical service and 25 percent for fire or rescue related — were made by the district and city in 2016.
Although reporting late last year that the district is debt-free and financially secure with a balanced budget and a clean audit for 28 years, they still face some challenges going forward in 2017.
Wrightson told The Reflector in November that emergency calls, from the fire district alone, are up by almost 32 percent and by state law they are limited to only a 1 percent revenue increase by state law per year. He explained revenue just isn’t keeping up with the demand of a rising population and although the district is financially secure right now, the budget is tight and there needs to be an increase in revenue if they hope to keep pace with the rising population.
Furthermore, Fire District 3’s levy decreased from $1.42 to $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2017.
The district failed to pass a new levy last summer which would have bumped it back up to $1.42, but according to Wrightson, the district has been discussing putting it on an upcoming ballot at some point this year.