Gateway: News

Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One asking voters for levy lid lift to keep services up with rate of community growth

Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One first responders get ready to participate in the Scott Firefighter stairclimb event earlier this year in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The fire district is asking voters to lift the levy lid.
Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One first responders get ready to participate in the Scott Firefighter stairclimb event earlier this year in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The fire district is asking voters to lift the levy lid. jbessex@gateline.com

For the first time in more than a decade, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One (GHFMO), Pierce County Fire District #5, is asking voters to lift the levy lid.

On the ballot for the Nov. 7 general election is a multi-year lid lift that, if approved, would reauthorize the fire levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value within the district.

The six-year levy lid lift request will allow GHFMO to keep response times and services at their current standard within the response area and allow for the update of outdated equipment, said Chief John Burgess.

“This is to continue business with what we’ve been doing,” he said. “The majority of the money will be used for staffing.”

This is to continue business with what we’ve been doing. The majority of the money will be used for staffing.

John Burgess, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One Fire chief

The current collected rate from the district is $1.47 (rounded up) per $1,000 of assessed property value because of a 1-percent limitation on annual property tax increases.

Additionally, calls for service from GHFMO have increased 25 percent since 2011, with 5,551 responses in 2016.

“The downside is that a 1-percent increase doesn’t allow us to keep up with inflation,” Burgess said. “It’s keeping up with the growth of our community and our ability to respond. The majority of this is going to keep response time down.”

The levy lid lift will allow the district to recapture some of the rate erosion that has occurred since 2006, when voters first approved the increase to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value, said Dan Bjurstrom, assistant chief of administration.

The measure would restore the levy rate to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value for 2018, and then allow a limit factor of 6 percent in increase in the following five years.

Both Bjurstrom and Burgess stressed that the rate cannot exceed $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value, even if the property value increases.

The downside is that a 1-percent increase doesn’t allow us to keep up with inflation. It’s keeping up with the growth of our community and our ability to respond. The majority of this is going to keep response time down.

Burgess

The amount estimated from the general lid lift is $1.5 million. The funds will be used directly to maintain services to the community with plans including the hiring, training and equipping of six firefighters and filling a vacant lieutenant position in GHFMO’s training division.

Updates to aging facilities, including the replacement of a 30-year-old generator and a 1976 Air Truck, are also included.

The department has plans to increase its financial reserve, meeting the mandate by the Board of Fire Commissioners that a reserve of 15 percent of the annual budget be maintained and also to put money toward a future fire training facility.

GHFMO will be conducting additional educational information to the community proceeding the Nov. 7 general election. More information on GHFMO can be found online at gigharborfire.org.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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