Fire District 6 may ask voters to OK levy

It would pay for new fire station, additional training

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Clark County Fire District 6 may ask voters this November to open their pockets a little wider to support staffing, equipment and facilities.

Next month, the fire district’s commissioners will consider a resolution asking voters to increase the district’s levy amount from $1.27 to $1.50 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value. The increase could fund additional training and a new fire station.

But whether voters in Fire District 6 support a levy or not, homeowners’ expenses are likely to increase anyway, Chief Jerry Green said. Due to a lack of community outreach and modern training centers, the district’s Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau ranking was recently downgraded.

As a result, the average homeowner could see up to a 3 percent increase on their homeowner’s insurance, while a business owner’s rates could increase by as much as 9 percent, according to the district.

For a home valued at $200,000, for example, a homeowner who pays $800 annually for home insurance could pay as much as an additional $24, according to statistics from real estate website Zillow.com. If the levy passes, that same homeowner would pay about $46 more on their property taxes each year.

Financial challenges

The fire district, which serves 64,000 people in a 37-square-mile area just north of Vancouver city limits, is “holding on, but just barely,” Green said. The district has cut its expenses by $385,225 — its overall budget is $9,397,226 — and drawn $1.61 million from reserves to maintain service levels, leaving its reserves at about $250,000.

“Some of the cutbacks we’ve had to do with the downturn of the economy,” Green said.

Green said ideally the district would be able to build one new fire station in a different but nearby location. Station 63 — which serves Salmon Creek, Mount Vista and the Fairgrounds — is outdated and too small to safely house fire engines, he said.

There are also restrictions on where and under what conditions fire engines can turn east out of the station. Engines are permitted to turn east only in high-level emergencies — think urgent medical calls or fires — but must head west and then turn around in low-level emergencies. The county-imposed restriction can add as much as two minutes to response time.

“There’s almost no question that this entire facility would be removed,” he said, adding it would cost about $3.5 million to build a new station at a better location.

The proposed new facilities will also include a training facility for firefighters and a meeting room for public outreach.

Some of the department’s challenges can be chalked up to the increased cost of doing business. In the last year, emergency call volumes increased by 10 percent over the previous year, and have increased by 31 percent in the last decade due to a growing population.

Expenses have also increased. The cost for personal protective equipment, for example, has increased by more than 200 percent since 2011, with the department spending $49,500 on equipment in 2011 and $159,500 in 2015.

Next steps

The fire district board will consider a resolution asking voters to approve increasing the levy at their July 7 and 21 meetings. Meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Fire District 6 headquarters at 8800 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., Vancouver. If the board votes to move forward, voters who live in Fire District 6 will cast their votes on the levy during the Nov. 3 election.