Orting voters deciding on emergency services

Staff writerApril 17, 2013 

Orting voters are making a crucial decision on the future of their emergency services.

Residents have received mail-in ballots to vote by Tuesday on a tax measure that would generate $825,000 each year through 2017.

Orting Valley Fire & Rescue, Fire District No. 18, wants the money for district maintenance and operations, according to the voters pamphlet and Pierce County Elections. The city could face increased response times and costly ambulance services if the funding request is rejected, Orting Fire Chief Zane Gibson said.

“We wouldn’t ask if we didn’t think we needed (the funds),” Gibson said. “We aren’t trying to do anything new. We are just trying to keep the lights on.”

No opposition statement was submitted for the voters pamphlet.

To pass, Proposition 1 needs 1,461 yes votes plus a 60 percent favorable margin.

If approved, the measure would authorize the district to collect $825,000 annually or about $3.3 million through 2017. The tax rate would be about 89 to 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. So residents with property valued at $200,000 would pay $178 to $184 annually.

Gibson said Orting’s approach to the levy is unusual. As property values fluctuate, the rate will be adjusted over the four-year period to meet the annual $825,000 revenue amount set by the fire commissioners. The annual revenue goal is met by adjusting the tax rate as property values change each year.

The fire district’s funding has fallen 30 percent since 2009. Its current annual operating budget is about $2.7 million, Gibson said.

Revenue dropped because of a struggling national economy and declining district property values, according to the district’s website. Levy passage would restore operating funds to 2009 levels, Gibson said.

If voters reject the levy, the department likely will cut full-time staff, volunteer positions and ambulance services, Gibson said.

Currently, the district offers ambulance services at no cost to residents. The district bills insurance, but residents aren’t responsible for any co-pays or deductibles, Gibson said.

Failure of the levy would result in a switch to private ambulance services, which could increase response times and cost residents money, he said. Gibson said the closest ambulance services they could contract with are based in Federal Way or Tacoma, which would significantly increase response times.

At present, response times range from four to six minutes, Gibson said.

The district has maintained its response times despite the cuts made to its operations over the last few years, Gibson said.

Fire commissioners voted in December to bring the levy to a vote, in anticipation of an additional 2 percent reduction in funding next year.

Orting Valley Fire & Rescue covers about 31 square miles. Station 40 in downtown Orting is staffed 24 hours a day with at least one paramedic and three firefighters. Volunteers supplement that staff, which handles about 1,500 emergency calls annually, according to the fire district’s website.

Ballots must be postmarked or submitted by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Seven drop boxes are open for the election. Information on active drop boxes and voting centers is available at piercecountywa.org/elections.

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