There’s no getting around how important it is for voters to support levy requests made by their local fire departments.
That money from property taxes funds fire districts so that they can continue providing vital services to the community.
But not all levies are created equal. Besides the regular levies and levy lid lifts on Pierce County voters’ ballots being mailed today are two requests for permanent levies for emergency medical service made by Orting Valley Fire & Rescue and Fire Protection District 10 (which includes Fife).
Granted, going to the voters hat in hand every so often is a pain, and expense is involved with getting on the ballot. Supporters have to spend money mounting a campaign and erecting signs. Some fire districts – including Tacoma – have convinced voters to approve permanent levies so they can avoid all that. We view these with skepticism.
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Like school districts, fire departments should be accountable for how they use their property tax money. They do that by presenting their case to voters on a regular basis for either a continued level of financial support or an increase. Regular levies give voters the chance to send a message if they think their local fire department has fallen short.
It doesn’t happen that often. Voters know how important fire response and emergency medical service are, and they tend to be supportive of most levy requests (bond measures for capital projects are another matter).
Voters shouldn’t give up the chance to have a say. The two districts seeking approval of permanent levies should come back to voters with regular six-year requests. If school districts have to seek voter approval, then fire departments certainly should.
The other districts’ levy requests are more straightforward, and voters should support them.
▪ West Pierce Fire & Rescue seeks renewal of a four-year maintenance and operation levy that supplements its regular levy and provides more than 35 percent of the district’s budget. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay $270 in 2016, decreasing to $244 in 2019. That is less on an annual basis than the levy it replaces.
▪ The Key Peninsula Fire Department seeks a levy lid lift to address revenue shortfalls. It restores the district’s regular levy to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2016 and provides annual increases of up to 6 percent in the following five years. Approval would fund vehicle replacement and replenish reserves.
▪ The Town of Steilacoom is asking voters to renew a six-year levy for emergency medical services contracted through West Pierce Fire & Rescue. The rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation would cost the owner of a $250,000 home $125 a year.
▪ Greenwater Fire, on the road to Mount Rainier, seeks renewal of a 10-year EMS levy. The rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of valuation would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $75 a year.
▪ Pierce County Fire Protection District 23 (Ashford, Elbe and Alder) seeks renewal of a six year EMS levy that expired in 2014. At 50 cents per $1,000 of valuation, it would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $75 a year.