Monday, October 26, 2020
Oct. 26, 2020

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Budget for Fire District 3 strained because of workload

Increase in service calls could lead to proposal to lift levy lid

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter

Clark County Fire District 3’s call volume has increased almost 40 percent in the past 10 years, the district said, prefacing a likely levy lid-lift proposal, which would mean a hike in district homeowners’ property taxes.

Last year saw a record-setting 1,479 calls for service, the district said in a news release. Including Battle Ground, where the district started operating last year, firefighters responded to more than 3,500 emergency calls.

The district says it serves about 20,000 people over an area of 80 square miles around Hockinson, Heisson, Venersborg and parts of Brush Prairie. Adding Battle Ground brought the number of district residents to about 40,000.

The district took over firefighting duties for the city of Battle Ground at the start of last year, after the city chose to end its nearly 25-year fire services contract with Clark County Fire & Rescue.

Money from the contract — worth about $5.1 million over two years, according to Battle Ground’s 2017-2018 budget — has helped stave off budgetary problems. Still, the district said, costs for equipment, supplies and staff are increasing, and the district has still had to start dipping into reserve funds.

“Tapping reserve funds isn’t sustainable,” district Chief Steve Wrightson said in the release. “Cracks are beginning to show, but we’re on top of it.”

State law prohibits collected property taxes to increase by more than 1 percent per year without a vote. However, as property values rise, the tax rate drops, and revenue is not keeping up with expenses, according to the district.

The fire district’s board of commissioners will consider asking voters to approve a levy rate increase in the fall, the district said.

District 3 voters declined in last August’s primary to maintain their former levy rate of $1.42 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Fire District 3’s levy rate has dropped to $1.29 per $1,000 assessed value.

Adding 13 cents to return the levy rate to its previous level would bring the cost of the levy for a $300,000 home to about $426 annually, a roughly $39 increase.

Columbian environment and transportation reporter