3 fire districts, City of Fircrest asking voters to fund fire and emergency services

Staff writerJuly 17, 2014 

Voters in East Pierce County and Fircrest will soon decide whether to increase their property taxes to help fund fire and emergency services.

Three local fire districts – East Pierce Fire & Rescue, Graham Fire & Rescue, and Riverside Fire & Rescue – have placed property tax levies on the Aug. 5 ballot, while the City of Fircrest is also asking voters to renew a six-year emergency services levy.

Two of the agencies cite lost tax revenues during the recession as one reason why the levies are necessary. All say they need the funding to keep up with the rising number of emergency service calls they are receiving.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue

The largest of the fire districts seeking additional funding is East Pierce Fire & Rescue, which serves about 85,000 people in and around Bonney Lake, Sumner, Edgewood, Milton, South Prairie and Lake Tapps.

East Pierce’s proposed levy would bring in about $19.2 million in the next four years, renewing an expiring maintenance and operations levy while adding more funding for additional firefighters.

Voters in East Pierce Fire & Rescue’s service area last approved a property tax increase in 2012, which brought the fire district about $6.2 million over 2013 and 2014.

That two-year levy is now expiring, and district officials are looking to replace it – but they’re asking for more this time.

If approved, Prop. 1 would cost residents 53 cents per $1,000 in assessed value next year, which amounts to $106 in yearly taxes for a $200,000 home.

The rate would decrease to 48 cents per $1,000 in assessed value by 2018, the fourth and final year the levy would be collected.

Fire Chief Jerry Thorson said the levy money would pay for 12 new firefighters, allowing East Pierce to increase staffing on two of its six fire engines. An engine staffed with three firefighters – as opposed to two – can enter buildings more quickly and speed up rescue operations, Thorson said.

The rest of the money from the levy would go toward funding basic needs such as training, as well as maintaining the district’s equipment and fire stations, Thorson said.

“It kind of gets spread throughout the organization to maintain the services we provide,” said Thorson, noting that the district has been dealing with a budget shortfall in recent years due to the economic recession.

Some citizens living within the district, however, think that East Pierce is asking for too much. Rose Hill, who helped draft the official statement against the measure, said the fire district could save money by cutting down on administration and bureaucracy.

“We just think it is time to say no, enough is enough,” said Hill, a former Edgewood city councilwoman. “Make do with what you have.”

East Pierce’s levy was the only fire measure to garner official opposition in the Pierce County Voters’ Pamphlet.

Graham Fire & Rescue

Meanwhile, Graham Fire & Rescue is asking voters to approve a property tax increase that would bring the district $11 million over four years.

The maintenance and operations levy would fund 16 additional firefighters and paramedics, according to the district, as well as pay for two additional response units.

If approved, property taxes in the district’s service area would increase by 60 cents per $1,000 in assessed value for next year’s collection. The rate would decrease in the following years, bottoming out at 52 cents per $1,000 of assessed value by 2018.

Graham Fire & Rescue serves 61,000 people in unincorporated parts of East Pierce County.

City of Fircrest

Voters in the City of Fircrest are being asked to renew a six-year emergency services levy. Approval of the measure would continue the current tax rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The money goes toward funding emergency medical services within the City of Fircrest, which are handled by Tacoma Fire.

Riverside Fire & Rescue

Riverside Fire & Rescue is asking voters to continue an emergency services levy that amounts to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $75 per year for a $150,000 home. The fire district serves about 3,000 people living between Tacoma and Puyallup in unincorporated Pierce County.

The renewed levy would last for six years, beginning in 2015.

“This isn’t a new tax – it’s just continuing the old tax,” Riverside Fire Chief Tony Cooper said.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209 melissa.santos@thenewstribune.com @melissasantos1

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