Voters to decide proposed annexation of city of Woodland into Clark County Fire & Rescue

The first in a series of three Zoom meetings that will allow voters to gather information takes place tonight

Voters in the city of Woodland and throughout the 125 square miles covered by Clark County Fire & Rescue (CCFR) in North Clark County will have a decision to make on the Aug. 4 primary and special election ballot. The proposition concerns fire protection and emergency medical services in the city of Woodland and throughout the district.

Voters in the city of Woodland and throughout the 125 square miles covered by Clark County Fire & Rescue (CCFR) in North Clark County will have a decision to make on the Aug. 4 primary and special election ballot. The proposition concerns fire protection and emergency medical services in the city of Woodland and throughout the district. Photo by Mike Schultz
Voters in the city of Woodland and throughout the 125 square miles covered by Clark County Fire & Rescue (CCFR) in North Clark County will have a decision to make on the Aug. 4 primary and special election ballot. The proposition concerns fire protection and emergency medical services in the city of Woodland and throughout the district. Photo by Mike Schultz

CCFR Chief John Nohr will hold a series of three Zoom meetings to allow voters to obtain more information on the proposed annexation. The first will take place tonight at 7 o’clock and the others will follow on the next two Tuesdays, July 21 and 28. For more details on how to participate in the Zoom meetings, go to https://www.clarkfr.org/fire-annexation/.

In March, the Woodland City Council passed an ordinance seeking voter approval for annexation of the city into the CCFR District. Woodland has been contracting with the agency since 2013. If approved by voters, fire and emergency services for Woodland and CCFR would be combined to form Clark-Cowlitz Fire Protection District 15 and the current contract for service would end. City of Woodland and Clark County Fire & Rescue officials state that the combined tax rate and current level of service are expected to remain the same with annexation.

Clark County Fire & Rescue covers 125 square miles of northwest Clark County, and includes the cities of Ridgefield and La Center, the Cowlitz Indian reservation, and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Meadow Glade, Dollars Corner, Duluth, Sara, Charter Oak, Lewisville, Rock Creek, Pine Grove, Highland, and Pioneer. CCFR was created in 2008 by the merger of Clark County Fire District 11 and Clark County Fire District 12. Previous mergers and annexations into the district have included Clark County Fire District 14, Clark County Fire District 2, the city of Ridgefield, and the city of La Center.

If the annexation is approved by voters, fire and emergency services for Woodland and CCFR would be combined to form Clark-Cowlitz Fire Protection District 15 and the current contract for service would end. Photo by Mike Schultz
If the annexation is approved by voters, fire and emergency services for Woodland and CCFR would be combined to form Clark-Cowlitz Fire Protection District 15 and the current contract for service would end. Photo by Mike Schultz

If the annexation is approved, citizens residing within Woodland will be eligible to vote on district bonds, levies and commissioners, and to run for seats on the district’s board of commissioners. All properties of the combined district would be assessed the same levy rate (currently $1.48 per $1,000 of assessed value). The city of Woodland property tax levy would decrease by an amount equal to the fire district levy. The overall combined tax rate and current level of service for Woodland and CCCR are anticipated to remain the same with annexation, according to district and city officials.

How do Woodland residents benefit from a partnership with CCFR?

CCFR officials report that prior to contracting with the city, Woodland only had one firefighter on duty per day, usually supplemented with a firefighter/intern and with volunteer firefighters when they were available. The career firefighters were Emergency Medical Technicians, but none were paramedics. Simultaneous emergencies often meant that citizens had to wait for a single Woodland crew to clear from one incident before responding to another.

Since Woodland began contracting with CCFR in 2013, the citizens of Woodland became part of a larger organization for fire and emergency incidents. “This means faster response times for emergencies, more crews available to immediately respond to simultaneous incidents, and more firefighters arriving on scene to structure fires to perform rescues and other critical tasks,’’ stated information provided by CCFR. “Further, CCFR has assigned a paramedic to be on duty each day at the Woodland fire station. In addition, costs for management, maintenance, and training are spread across multiple communities, allowing more money to be used to place firefighters in stations.’’

How do CCFR residents benefit from a partnership with Woodland?

According to CCFR officials, the partnership with Woodland is beneficial to the district because it allows for a fast response into the far northwest corner of the fire district from the Woodland station, as well as faster responses to car crashes on Interstate 5 in the CCFR response area. The revenue also provides an additional emergency response unit to be on duty and available to respond to other incidents in the CCFR district area. “As with most businesses, there are a number of economies of scale that are a benefit to a larger organization with shared resources,’’ CCFR officials stated.

How common is it for a city to annex to a fire district?

Annexation of cities into fire districts is very common throughout Washington. In Clark County, the City of Battle Ground annexed into Fire District 3 earlier this year. The cities of Ridgefield and La Center annexed into CCFR over two decades ago. In Cowlitz County the cities of Kelso, Kalama, and Castle Rock are all annexed into fire districts. There have been over 20 fire department annexations and mergers in Washington since 2017.

What happens if annexation is not approved?

The city of Woodland funds fire and emergency services through its general property tax levy. City officials state that emergency service contract costs will exceed its general fund revenue by 2024. The city will have to cut emergency service costs to maintain a balanced budget. If this happens, CCFR officials state that the district will be forced to reduce emergency service levels in the city, which means fewer personnel and apparatus to respond to emergencies in Woodland and the areas of CCFR adjacent to Woodland.

How is the Fire District governed?

Clark County Fire & Rescue is governed by a five-member Board of Fire Commissioners elected from within the jurisdictional boundaries of the district. Since Woodland is served by a contract, the citizens of Woodland cannot be fire commissioners for CCFR. Under annexation, CCFR’s jurisdictional boundaries will expand to include Woodland. Any resident within these new jurisdictional boundaries, including Woodland, could run for these positions as they come up for election.

What happens to the Fire Impact Fee that developers in Woodland pay?

The city of Woodland collects a one-time Fire Impact Fee from new residential and commercial developments. This revenue must be used to fund capital projects related to fire protection in Woodland, and is currently used to pay for the new fire station that was constructed on Scott Avenue in 2018. Under annexation, these impact fees would continue to be used to pay off the fire station and future capital projects for improved fire service in Woodland. After annexation, property owners in the City would pay the same fire levy rate for service as those in the Fire District.

For more information on the annexation or details on how to participate in the series of Zoom meetings, go to https://www.clarkfr.org/fire-annexation/.

About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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