Clark County Fire District 3 is looking to raise its property tax levy with approval of voters through a measure that, if passed, would increase staffing and allow for the district’s easternmost station to be staffed around the clock.
The district has a levy “lid lift” on the August primary ballot this year. If approved, the lift would increase the current levy of $1.21 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.50 per $1,000, the cap for regular fire levies in Washington.
The district plans to increase its staffing levels and resources with the lid lift, all in the name of better service, Clark County Fire District 3 Chief Scott Sorenson said.
The district is seeking to have all three-person crews funded by the lid lift. With only two to a crew, the district needs multiple crews to enter structure fires due to labor law, the chief said.
“With three people, if we have a known rescue … we can do it if we have one person outside watching their backs,” Sorenson said.
Not having to back up first-responding units as much allows for greater coverage when multiple calls come in.
“The amount of work you can get done with a third person is significantly more,” Sorenson said.
The district would need 36 more personnel to meet that service level, Sorenson said. If the lid lift is approved, the district would start with its first batch of six firefighters in the first year.
The lid lift would also remodel the district’s station on Rawson Road in the eastern side of the jurisdiction. Right now that station is staffed by volunteer firefighters based on their availability.
The current facility has the potential for a sleeping area on the upper floor of the building, which will be covered in the remodel, Sorenson said. That will allow a crew to be present around the clock.
The lid lift would also cover replacement of an aging fire engine and ambulance. Currently, fire apparatus have a regular span of use of 25 years, Sorenson said. One of the district’s reserve engines was built in 1998 and would be taken out of commission if the district was able to get a new one.
As to why the district needs to raise its levy, Sorenson said the base rate at which it increases year-by-year doesn’t keep up with the growth the district is seeing. Ordinarily, a fire district can only collect 1% more from its property tax levy than it had authorized the previous year. In the past six years, the levy rate has dropped from $1.42 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.21 per $1,000, even with the 1% increases.
The district has experienced an average of 5% growth in the number of calls annually, Sorenson said. About three quarters of those calls are for medical needs. The increased service from the lid lift also impacts the district’s insurance rating, which benefits homeowners through lower policy rates, he noted.
The district last lifted its levy in 2017 when roughly 62.3% of voters approved the measure.
That levy funded around-the-clock staffing for the district’s Station 32 in Venersborg and a second crew at Station 35 in Battle Ground, Sorenson said. The district also purchased two new engines and two squad vehicles — trucks used for brush and grass fires as well as medical calls.
This time around, the ballot measure will have a greater voter base. In 2020, voters in both the unincorporated part of Clark County and in the city of Battle Ground voted overwhelmingly to have the city formally annexed into the district at a rate around three-to-one.
The lid lift is a component of the district’s long-term strategic plan, the chief said.
“Part of that evaluation process is what we can do to provide the best service affordable in our community,” Sorenson said.
Fire District 3 will be hosting a question-and-answer session and two open houses in the weeks leading up to the primary election deadline Aug. 1. Those events will be:
• A question-and-answer session from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at Station 31, 17718 NE 159th St.
• An open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 29, at Station 32, 21503 NE 227th Ave.
• An open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 29, at Station 33, 18209 NE 259th St.