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News / Clark County News

Tax info crucial for laid-off firefighters

It will help determine if they get hired by new B.G. contractor

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published: September 15, 2015, 8:09pm

Battle Ground will switch its firefighting contractor from Clark County Fire & Rescue to Clark County Fire District 3 starting next year, but what that will mean for the 11 firefighters facing layoffs at Clark County Fire & Rescue in large part depends on the city’s next property tax valuation.

Fire District 3 Assistant Chief Scott Sorenson said the district will have at least 10 new positions available as it moves to take over fire duties from Clark County Fire & Rescue, and 13 people have applied with the district.

Sorenson said previously that the district intends to reserve any spots for lateral hires for applicants from Clark County Fire & Rescue.

“We did get an excellent list of applicants and we’re preparing that list now,” he said.

The district’s staffing plan depends on what its budget will be. The money for the contract with District 3 comes from Battle Ground’s general fund, which has multiple revenue sources including property taxes, sales taxes and utility taxes.

Battle Ground’s budget for the contract is calculated as $1.50 per $1,000 of the assessed property values in the city. Sorenson said the newest property value information won’t be available for several weeks.

Several administrators at Clark County Fire & Rescue also were let go as a result of the loss of the contract.

Clark County Fire & Rescue has been the city’s fire services contractor for 25 years and covers more than 160 square miles of unincorporated north Clark County, along with La Center, Ridgefield and Woodland.

A city committee reviewed proposals from both districts, Battle Ground spokeswoman Bonnie Gilberti said, and decided District 3’s offer, which included more services, was more enticing.

Battle Ground’s city council approved the new contract Sept. 7, and it goes into effect Jan. 1. The contract also includes emergency medical services.

The price of the contract has risen with property values, growing from about $1.39 million in 2011 to about $2 million in 2014, according to 2014 adjusted budget numbers.

For Battle Ground’s 2015-16 biennial budget, the city planned for about $4.7 million in expenditures for its fire services contract, $2.3 million in 2015 and $2.4 million in 2016, according to city records.

The city’s latest six-year contract with CCFR included a clause allowing the city to end it a year early, and the city opted to take advantage.

Sorenson said District 3’s challenge will be evenly planning how to use revenues from city customers, who pay for fire protection as part of their city property tax levy, and district property owners, who pay a district levy at a rate of nearly $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“The primary thing that we’re trying to do is make sure that the money that comes from the city is spent in the city,” Sorenson said. “The idea was that both taxpayers, whether they live in the district or in the city, would be paying a similar amount for the services.”

For now, much of the transition is in the planning phase.

“We haven’t really done much solid, yet,” said Tim Dawdy, a Clark County Fire & Rescue battalion chief. “It’s all been on paper.”

Battle Ground owns fire engines and equipment at the fire station in town and the station itself. The city’s firefighting contractor staffs the station, uses the city’s equipment and brings along whatever else it needs.

In the coming months, Dawdy said, firefighters from District 3 will start taking shifts at the Battle Ground fire station to familiarize themselves with the equipment and the service area.

“What you don’t want to do on midnight on the 31st of December is to just have some guys come and jump on the equipment,” he said.

Still, any training schedules won’t be ready until the district can firm up a budget and make hires, and who is hired will affect how training is planned, Sorenson said.

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Among other planning tasks, Sorenson said, District 3 is working with the regional emergency dispatch center about making the switch between districts. He said the district also may purchase another small engine.

He said that District 3, Clark County Fire & Rescue and city officials will meet later this week to start talking about how they want to make the change in one of what will likely be many meetings. District 3 needs to determine what it will have to buy, what Clark County Fire & Rescue may leave behind or sell, and what’s at the station now, he said.

“Certainly, there is an air of cooperation and an air of friendliness,” Dawdy said. “We’re just talking about what needs to be done.”

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Columbian environment and transportation reporter