For safety’s sake, support fire district levies

The News TribuneJuly 14, 2014 

Four Pierce County fire districts are seeking important levy support on the Aug. 5 ballot. Voters who value prompt and reliable emergency response should respond by approving those measures.

Most fire districts’ revenues — which in Washington are largely based on property values — took a hit during the recession, often forcing layoffs, pay cuts, delayed maintenance and training, freezes on equipment purchases and other cutbacks.

The districts have worked hard to avoid negative impacts on public safety but service could be hurt without voters’ levy support. Here are the measures voters will consider.

 • East Pierce Fire & Rescue four-year maintenance and operations levy: The district’s 13 stations serve Bonney Lake, Sumner, Lake Tapps, South Prairie, Edgewood and Milton. It’s seeking approval of a levy that would cost 48 to 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation (the cost goes down each year) — or about $80 at the higher rate for a home valued at $150,000.

Passage would allow the district to hire more firefighters to address increasing demand for service and to replace old equipment and rigs. It would maintain the service status quo, while rejection likely would force cutbacks that could affect response times.

 • City of Fircrest six-year levy renewal: Fircrest voters value their emergency services providers, supporting six-year levies in 1996, 2002 and 2008. This levy — which would not increase rates — would continue current level of services that the city contracts for through the Tacoma EMS system.

The levy rate is 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $75 annually for the owner of a $150,000 home. That’s good value for the price.

 • Graham Fire & Rescue four-year maintenance and operation excess levy: This levy would enable the district to maintain or even improve current levels of service. That’s important; calls for service rose more than 14 percent since 2008 even as revenues declined by 21 percent.

The district’s recession-related revenue hits have forced cuts in training, public education, wages and staffing. The excess levy will help return service to levels the public expects. Failure would likely result in more staffing cuts, with only four of the district’s five stations staffed full-time.

The levy would cost 60 cents in the first year, decreasing to 52 cents in the fourth – or about $90 in the first year for the owner of a home assessed at $150,000. District voters should support it.

 • Riverside Fire & Rescue six-year EMS levy renewal: The volunteer fire department is rebuilding after shutting down in 2012 and contracting with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue. It needs voters in the unincorporated area along the Puyallup River to pass a levy costing 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That amounts to $50 on a home worth $100,000. It would be a continuation of an existing tax.

Passage would enable the district to buy medical supplies, maintain and upgrade equipment and provide training. As a frequent first responder to crashes on the notoriously dangerous River Road, the district badly needs levy support.

Read more endorsement editorial at endorsements.

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