The East Pierce Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners approved to place two propositions surrounding levy lid lifts on the primary election on Aug. 1 as the emergency call volume continues to increase rapidly across the district.
One proposition lifts the Fire Protection Levy Lid back to the previously approved $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. The second proposition maintains the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Levy Lid at the current $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Both propositions are necessary to help maintain and improve the department’s current services, but if approved, would be a small step toward acquiring the appropriate amount of funding, said East Pierce Fire Chief Bud Backer.
“We’re doing our best to get by with what we’ve got,” Backer said. “The call volume, with the amount of resources we have on the road now, is really putting a strain on our system.”
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We’re doing our best to get by with what we’ve got. The call volume, with the amount of resources we have on the road now, is really putting a strain on our system.
Bud Backer, East Pierce Fire and Rescue fire chief
The heavy workload in keeping up with calls is causing a burnout among some firefighters, Backer said, who have to work long hours. Sometimes, the department is so busy that units are not available to answer calls, and units from neighboring departments, such as Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, have to step in.
So far in 2017, East Pierce Fire has received 2,647 calls — a leap from last year’s 2,468, and is anticipated to rise.
“We’re 200 calls ahead of last year,” Backer said.
East Pierce Fire covers areas stretching from the edge of Milton through Bonney Lake, South Prairie, Tehelah and Carbonado. The increase in emergency calls stems from an increase in population in certain areas.
“Our coverage area is still the same, it’s just all the people moving in,” Backer said.
The East Pierce Fire district also has eight large older adult housing facilities. Last year, those eight facilities counted for 9 percent of the department’s calls. More of those facilities are expected to be built in the future.
A total of 22 firefighters are typically on duty at each of the department’s six stations. In a perfect world, that number would be at 29.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue is working to hire new staff members, but it’s a slow process, as they have to be appropriately trained. If approved, the levy funds would also aid in the acquisition of a fifth paramedic unit. East Pierce Fire has seen a 31 percent increase in EMS incidents since 2012.
We have a need to add a fifth paramedic unit to our system and these funds are going to help us do that...It’s going to take take time.
“We have a need to add a fifth paramedic unit to our system and these funds are going to help us do that,” Backer said. “It’s going to take take time.”
Pierce County Councilman Dan Roach serves the East Pierce area, including Bonney Lake and Tehaleh, where he said he’s noticed an increase in growth and city projects.
“There’s definitely growth going on in that area,” Roach said. “There are always pros and cons.”
Congestion could be one con, said Roach, while pros could be tax-based for the city and the county. Either way, it comes down to the voters and what they’re approving.
“I think (East Pierce Fire) does excellent work. As far as the levys, every proposal is different,” Roach said. “If you put it out there and you explain to the voters what’s going on, they’re going to get support.”
Both propositions sets the maximum allowable rate for each levy. East Pierce Fire asks to maintain those rates for a four-year period. If the propositions fail, both levies will be limited to a 1 percent property tax collection growth, which is not enough to maintain and improve current services, Backer said.
Voters can decide for themselves as ballots hit the mail around mid-July.