This information was provided by Clark County Fire District 3.
BRUSH PRAIRIE — The Board of Fire Commissioners for Clark County Fire District 3 passed the 2017 Budget during its meeting on Nov. 16.
Chief Steve Wrightson said that the fire district is debt free and financially secure with a balanced budget and another clean audit behind it. However, skyrocketing call volumes and a declining fire levy rate were a concern.
“Emergency calls from fire district residents alone have increased almost 32 percent in five years,” Wrightson said. “In contrast, we’re limited to a 1 percent revenue increase per year by state law. Revenue is simply not keeping up with demand for service.”
More calls mean added costs for apparatus and facilities maintenance, equipment and supplies, and personnel. These are not costs that the fire district controls, and have forced Fire District 3 to fund daily operations out of its emergency reserve fund for several years. Wrightson said the fire district must find a sustainable way to maintain emergency service levels going forward.
One thing that has helped Fire District 3 respond to higher call volumes is its contract with the city of Battle Ground. The partnership has helped the agency staff more stations in the fire district and respond faster to multiple emergency calls that come in at the same time. The city pays the same levy rate based on its total assessed valuation as fire district taxpayers.
“This contract improves our emergency response to both fire district and city residents,” Wrightson said. “But the calls keep coming and our levy rate continues to decline.”
Emergency operations at Fire District 3 are funded through 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.” For example, Fire District 3’s levy is projected to fall from $1.42 to $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2017. The fire district will discuss asking voters to return the levy to $1.42 per $1,000 to meet the increasing demand for emergency services.
A 13-cent lid lift would cost an additional $52 per year ($4.33 per month) for a property valued at $400,000. The last time voters approved a lid lift for emergency services was in 2006.
Other budget highlights include replacing a water tender and hiring a probationary firefighter. These were both anticipated expenses by the fire district. The new water tender will replace one that has been in service since 1984. One additional firefighter will reduce overtime costs Fire District 3 currently pays to respond to increased call volumes.