As Battle Ground and Fire District 3 officials continue to work toward a potential annexation vote, city officials reviewed a list of improvements or cuts to services if the vote takes place in 2020, as is expected.
At the city council’s Aug. 19 meeting, the council voted unanimously to reduce the city’s utility tax rate by 10 percent if the annexation vote is approved.
City Manager Erin Erdman said earlier this year the city is aiming to put annexation on the ballot in February, with public hearings happening in October. The vote would have to be approved by Battle Ground residents, as well as those who live in Fire District 3’s coverage area, which includes Battle Ground, Hockinson, Brush Prairie and Venersborg.
Fire District 3 took over as Battle Ground’s fire and emergency service contractor in 2016 after the city opted to switch from using Clark County Fire & Rescue. It’s the only city in the county to contract out for fire service.
According to information from the fire district, the current contract for fire services accounts for $1.35 of the city’s property tax levy, which is $1.37 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At the current rate, the district estimates that fire services contract would exceed the city’s general property tax levy in 2021 due to increased call volume to the city.
In a release from the district, the estimated fire levy rate if the annexation is approved would be 1.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Battle Ground uses 21 percent of its general fund to pay for the contract with Fire District 3, which amounted to roughly $3 million this year. If the city is annexed into the district, fire and emergency services would be paid by taxpayers through a fire levy.
In the same release, it says that with a dedicated fire levy, money that was going for the fire contract could be used for other services, such as improved fire and police response times, more firefighters and officers for traffic patrols and investigative services, capital improvements for emergency apparatus and facilities, more street maintenance and preservation projects, sidewalk repairs and replacement, improved parks maintenance and planning for park and recreation facilities and a network of trails and bikeways.
“There is no doubt that we are stronger working together,” Fire Chief Scott Sorenson said in the release. “The issue is that the city has emergency service needs that we cannot continue to fund through a contract relationship. If we did, either our taxpayers would be subsidizing property owners in the city, or the city would have to make significant cuts to police, streets, parks and community programs. Under annexation, everyone pays the same rate, and we can plan to meet the demand for quality emergency services as our communities grow.”