CCF&R plans meetings on property tax levy increase

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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Clark County Fire & Rescue will host two meetings later this month ahead of an Aug. 1 vote for a 9-cent property tax levy increase for district residents.

Should voters agree to the levy increase, the money would go toward replacing aging vehicles and hiring seven to nine firefighters, which district staff said would reduce response times in the 153-square mile district, which serves 40,0000 people in Clark County and Ridgefield, La Center and Woodland.

Currently, the property tax levy rate for the district is $1.41 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The 9-cent increase would cost the owner of a $300,000 home an additional $27 per year, or $450 total.

The district will offer two meetings to answer questions about the proposed levy, both at Station 21, 911 N. 65th Ave., Ridgefield. The meetings will be 9-10 a.m. July 22 and 6-7 p.m. July 27.

District voters approved a $1.50 rate in 2006. That rate declined as property values increased, ultimately stifling the district’s revenue, staff say.

Fire Chief John Nohr said that and the economy have led to a roughly $10.4 million in lost revenue.

Layoffs and budgets

While the district did lose the roughly $2.4 million contract for fire services in the city of Battle Ground to Clark County Fire District 3, Nohr said the accompanying layoffs and other reductions made it a wash.

To keep the budget in line, Clark County Fire & Rescue has laid off 11 firefighters and seven administrative and support staffers. It has also shuttered the Charter Oak and Pioneer stations.

Through all the changes, call volumes have been increasing, according to the district’s numbers. Emergency calls in the unincorporated district and Woodland have grown 10.6 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Not having those stations running has contributed to a roughly 20 percent increase in response times, Nohr said.

“It’s not uncommon to get two calls in one station at a time,” he said. That can mean a crew from another station has to fill in on the second call, which means more time traveling.

There was a scary call in early June where a motorcycle rider was seriously injured after hitting a pickup head-on on Highway 503.

“He was really put in jeopardy,” Nohr said, adding he wasn’t far from the closed Charter Oak station. What could have been a 2-minute response ended up taking 8 minutes, then another 3 minutes for the second crew, which was called to help stabilize the rider.

“There is a station there, fully equipped, fully outfitted, ready to go. It just doesn’t have the people,” he said.

For some pockets of the district, the increase in response times has also meant a downgrade in the insurance rating, he said, which will mean an increase in some residents’ insurance premiums.

District residents unable to attend the July 22 or 27 meetings can contact Nohr at john.nohr@clarkfr.org or 360-887-4609 with their questions. Nohr is also available to speak to community groups.