BATTLE GROUND — After three-plus years of contracting with Fire District 3, Battle Ground officials are looking to solidify the partnership by possibly annexing into the district.
Fire District 3 took over as Battle Ground’s fire and emergency service contractor on Jan. 1, 2016, after the city opted to switch from using Clark County Fire & Rescue.
“The contract was to build a relationship with them,” City Manager Erin Erdman said. “The long-term plan was that the district would annex the city in if both sides liked the fit.”
Both city and fire district officials are pleased with the partnership. Fire District 3 covers Battle Ground, Hockinson, Brush Prairie and Venersborg. Fire Chief Scott Sorenson said the partnership has improved service in the city and to the rest of the fire district.
In order for the city to be annexed into the district, there has to be a public vote that includes residents in Battle Ground and all of Fire District 3’s coverage area. Erdman said the two sides are working on details of the agreement, and have targeted February as the date when they’d like to put annexation up for vote. That gives the city and district until Dec. 13 to pass ordinances getting the item on the ballot for February.
Erdman said the next step toward annexation is working through the financial outlook. Currently, the city 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. Erdman said the money used for the fire contract would be directed to city services, possibly even lowering city taxes to help offset the cost of the new fire levy.
Some of residents’ taxes end up in the city’s general fund, so residents are technically paying for fire services at the moment. This would just be a more direct way for taxpayers to cover those services, Sorenson said.
In a survey sent out to residents from the city on the possibility of annexing into the district, the survey said “the average property owner might pay $300 to $400 per year to Fire District 3” through the levy.
Residents didn’t feel particularly strongly about annexation in the survey; 39 percent of the nearly 500 responses were unsure about annexation, 33 percent felt positively about it and 28 percent felt negatively. What the survey did show was that residents are pleased with Fire District 3’s service, with 66 percent saying they were “very satisfied” and 30 percent saying they were “somewhat satisfied.”
When asked about how to use the savings in the general fund should the city annex into the district, 60 percent said they’d prefer tax cuts to the 40 percent who said they’d like to see that money invested in local projects.
If the city is annexed into the district, it could give Fire District 3 officials more control over emergency services in Battle Ground. Currently, Station 35, 505 S.W. First St., is staffed 24/7 and is located in the center of the city geographically. Sorenson said district officials are looking at spaces on the west side of the city and east side of the city to build a new station; the placement and size of the current station isn’t best for demands of the growing city.
“The crews are pretty cramped in there right now,” Sorenson said. “We’re looking at what we might need for 20 to 30 years down the line. The traffic has increased, and it takes longer to get out of our station to where we have to go.”
Part of the discussion on that end will also be where development is expected. Erdman said the city has started discussions on land use and zoning around the city. She said there is a lot of residential development planned for the southeast quadrant of the city.
“We’re expecting a big boon of residential over there,” she said. “But we’re almost out of industrial land, so we need to figure out where we might want to put more of that. That will factor into planning, too.”