Clark County Fire District 3 officials make case for annexation

Currently, Fire District 3 provides emergency services to the city through a short-term contract

BATTLE GROUND — Two years ago, voters in Clark County Fire District 3 approved a fire levy lid lift to improve staffing and emergency services. Two years later, the Fire District will welcome three new emergency personnel this September to help increase staffing in Venersborg and other parts of the district. The fire district also plans to hire three more firefighters to respond to increasing call volumes.

It also has been able to replace aging emergency apparatus used for daily responses and fighting wildland fires in the county where homes border forested areas. Wildland fires were a significant issue in 2017 for east Clark County, and smaller apparatus can drive where larger engines are not able to maneuver.

Clark County Fire District 3 officials make case for annexation
Battle Ground is discussing the possibility of asking city voters to annex to Fire District 3. Currently, Fire District 3 provides emergency services to the city through a short-term contract. As such, it is a fee-for-service arrangement that does not allow long-term planning for city residents. Photo by Chris Brown

These investments in fire services have helped maintain the insurance rating for the fire district, which correlates to lower premiums for home and business owners. It also happened at a time when Battle Ground is discussing the possibility of asking city voters to annex to Fire District 3. Currently, Fire District 3 provides emergency services to the city through a short-term contract. As such, it is a fee-for-service arrangement that does not allow long-term planning for City residents.

Fire District 3 maintains accurate accounts of how it spends money on emergency services for its District and City taxpayers. Chief Scott Sorenson says that Fire District 3 is still in a difficult position.

“It’s like scratching your right shoulder when your whole back is itching,” he said. “Our commitment has to be to residents of the fire district and we are making the investments they paid for. However, there are real needs in the city of Battle Ground for personnel, apparatus and facilities. The city doesn’t have the revenue to pay for them without cutting police, parks and roads. And, it’s not right for our taxpayers in the county to fund these improvements. That’s why annexation is an option.”

Battle Ground is the only city in the area that contracts for emergency services. The current contract rate equates to $1.35 of the city’s $1.37 per $1,000 of assessed value property tax levy. Other city services funded through this revenue source include police, parks maintenance, and road improvements and repairs. The emergency services contract is expected to exceed the city’s property tax levy in 2021, and officials are currently exploring new terms.

Under annexation, all property owners would pay the same amount for emergency services, which is projected to be $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value by the time the annexation is finalized. The city plans to offset some of these costs to its taxpayers by reducing the utility tax renters and property owners pay for water, sewer and stormwater by 10 percent.

City residents also would be able to vote on fire district issues such as commissioners, levies, and bonds, which they currently can’t do. If annexation were to take place, both city and Fire District 3 residents must approve it during an election.

Chief Sorenson is quick to point out that city and Fire District 3residents benefit from working together. Stations in both jurisdictions back up one another during multiple emergency calls. The contract also has allowed for improved training, fire marshal and fire prevention services.

This partnership contributes to the strong insurance rating for both city and Fire District 3 residents. Without it, city property owners likely would see insurance premiums increase as staffing levels drop and fire prevention services are reduced. However, the issue of annexation is more about fairness and service needs, said Chief Sorenson.

“City residents require more services, and we will not have our taxpayers subsidize those costs,” said Chief Sorenson.

Information provided by Clark County Fire District 3.

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