The Key Peninsula Board of Fire Commissioners voted Tuesday night to put a $3.2 million four-year maintenance and operations levy on the November ballot.
If it’s approved by a 60 percent supermajority of voters in the district, the levy would raise $800,000 during each of the next four years for Pierce County Fire District 16.
All funds would pay for salaries, training and safety equipment for eight firefighter/EMT positions. None of the money would go to overhead or administrative costs, according to the department.
The levy is being proposed, the department said, to help the Key Peninsula Fire Department improve its response times and ensure enough firefighters are available for emergencies.
Three fires in April and May focused a spotlight on the challenges the department faces as it attempts to provide adequate emergency response.
No lives were lost in the three recent fires, but a firefighter was hospitalized for heat exhaustion and dehydration, and two family pets died.
The levy would cost an estimated 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2013, 46 cents in 2014, and 49 cents in both 2015 and 2016. Next year, the levy would cost the owner of a $225,000 home an additional $8.25 per month.
Commissioners and other fire department officials stressed that, while the amount of money requested per year as part of the levy would remain the same, the assessed valuation of homes and property would affect the levy rate — that is, the amount charged per $1,000 of assessed value.
“We want full disclosure,” said Joe Quinn, attorney for Fire District 16. “We know that it could change. It could change up or down.”
Commissioner Frank Grubaugh agreed, noting he’s concerned voters will perceive the proposed levy as an escalating tax because of the possible levy rate increases.
“They’re reciprocal of one another,” he said. “As one goes up, one goes down.”
In other words, if property values continue to decline, the levy rate will increase. Likewise, if property values go up, the levy rate will decrease.
“Even this 2013 is a best guess,” Fire Chief Tom Lique said.
“Nobody has a crystal ball,” Quinn added.
Assistant Fire Chief Guy Allen suggested levy publicity efforts focus on the request of $800,000 for each of the next four years, not the levy rate, per se.
Commissioner Sheila Hunt said it would be wise to focus on the need for the levy in order to improve response times.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, a fire district the size of the Key Peninsula Fire Department, which serves 17,000 people in a 65-square-mile area, should be able to respond to a fire or emergency medical call within five minutes 90 percent of the time. Due to staff shortages, the department failed to meet that basic standard 85 percent of the time for fires and nearly 92 percent of time for medical calls in 2011, the department reported.
In addition, the Key Peninsula Fire Department has the fifth-highest property loss record for fires in Pierce County, largely due to its inability to respond adequately.
Should voters approve the levy, the rate would fluctuate in order to collection $800,000 annually during each of the next four years.
“You will be held to the levy amount,” Quinn said.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-853-9243 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.