City of Battle Ground officials identify improvements or cuts if annexation vote occurs

Currently, Battle Ground is the only city in the area that contracts for emergency services and it does so with Fire District 3

BATTLE GROUND — Discussions about a possible annexation vote between the city of Battle Ground and Clark County Fire District 3 continue to progress. At a recent Battle Ground City Council study session, members reviewed a list of improvements or cuts to services if an annexation vote should happen in 2020 for city and fire district residents.

“Like Fire District 3, we must have a plan if a vote for annexation should take place,” said City Manager Erin Erdman. “This was difficult for our council, but they are unified in taking steps to plan if the annexation passes or fails.”

City of Battle Ground officials identify improvements or cuts if annexation vote occurs
Currently, Battle Ground is the only city in the area that contracts for emergency services and it does so with Fire District 3. A contract is short-term and prevents the Fire District and the city from being able to invest in long-term operational and capital items required by city residents. Photo by Chris Brown

Currently, Battle Ground is the only city in the area that contracts for emergency services and it does so with Fire District 3. A contract is short-term and prevents the Fire District and the city from being able to invest in long-term operational and capital items required by city residents. City officials say the city can’t fund these needs on its own without impacting other departments, such as police, streets, parks, and other community programs.

The current contract for fire services costs $1.35 of the city’s property tax levy, which is $1.37 per $1,000 of assessed value. That leaves just 2-cents per $1,000 for other services. Call volumes in the city have increased to the point that the fire services contract would exceed the city’s general property tax levy in 2021.

The city and fire district have discussed the possibility of annexation for over a year. If annexation passes, the city would reduce its utility tax for water, sewer and stormwater drainage by 10 percent, which equates to about a third of the cost for fire service. This will help offset costs for property owners and renters in the city limits. Remaining revenue would be used for:

  • Better fire and police response times, including more firefighters and officers for traffic patrols and investigative services
  • Capital improvements for emergency apparatus and facilities
  • More street maintenance and preservation projects, sidewalk repairs and replacement
  • Better parks maintenance, and planning for park and recreation facilities and a network of trails and bikeways  
  • More programs and events that engage and strengthen community

Recently, the city and fire district started exploring what a new Fire/EMS contract would look like if annexation fails. In that case, there would be no utility tax decrease and the city would plan to reduce or cut services in the following areas to maintain a balanced budget. These items include:

  • Cuts to personnel in fire and police, which means longer response times
    • For fire services:
      • Reducing types of calls responded to, such as falls at care facilities in the City
      • Reduced day time staffing at the city fire station
      • Eliminating community service programs, such as free blood pressure checks, station tours, National Night Out, open houses, birthday party events, free smoke alarm installation, school prevention programs, and career night
      • Eliminating fire safety and prevention services in local schools
    • For police services:
      • Investigative priority will be crimes of violence and property crimes with known suspects; investigations will be delayed due to fewer staffing resources
      • Reduction in traffic enforcement and other community patrols
      • No police response to traffic accidents except for injuries and DUIs
      • No in-person police response for theft, fraud, vandalism where there is no suspect information (on-line reporting only)
      • No police response to drug and vice complaints
      • Cuts to police participation in community events such as the downtown Halloween event, police station tours, National Night Out, Shop with a Cop, K-9 presentations, and Drug Take Back Days
  • Higher insurance premiums for home and business owners due to lower levels of emergency services
  • Less street maintenance and preservation projects and street sweeping
  • Infrequent mowing and watering of parks; closure of splash pads
  • Cuts to community center hours as well as summer playground and holiday programs and activities

According to Fire District 3 and city of Battle Ground officials, the partnership between the city and fire district also provides benefits to county taxpayers. The officials say Fire District 3 property owners could lose back up units to respond to calls, and pay for all administrative costs if the contract is not renewed, which are currently shared between the two jurisdictions.

“We will still have these positions because they are required to serve the emergency service needs of our community,” said Fire Chief Scott Sorenson. “The difference is that it will cost our taxpayers more.”

He continues. “There is no doubt that we are stronger working together. The issue is that the city has emergency service needs that we cannot continue to fund through a contract relationship. If we did, either our taxpayers would be subsidizing property owners in the city, or the city would have to make significant cuts to police, streets, parks, and community programs. Under annexation, everyone pays the same rate and we can plan to meet the demand for quality emergency services as our communities grow.”

If annexation is approved, the fire levy rate is projected to be $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value. If city residents approve annexation, it effectively locks in the same rate for fire service that district property owners pay. This eliminates the risk that city property owners could pay more for emergency services than those who live in the unincorporated areas of the fire district.

City residents also would be able to vote on fire district issues such as commissioners, levies, and bonds, which they currently can’t do. Residents of both the city and fire district must approve a ballot measure for it to take effect.

More information can be found on the city’s website at https://www.cityofbg.org/470/Fire-Emergency-Medical-Services.  People with additional questions are encouraged to email Chief Scott Sorenson (scott@fire3.org) or City Manager Erin Erdman (erin.erdman@cityofbg.org) personally.

About Clark County Fire District 3

Clark County Fire District 3 provides fire suppression and emergency medical service to 40,000 people over 90 square miles, including the city of Battle Ground. Forty-five full-time and 13 volunteer emergency personnel responded to 4,221 calls in 2018 – 5.3 percent higher than the previous year. The core values of the district are “professionalism, safety, teamwork, integrity, and community.’’  More information on Fire District 3 can be found on its website www.fire3.org.

Information provided by Clark County Fire District 3.

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