Saturday, December 4, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021

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Vancouver eyes $72.7 million fire department levy

City council wants to put proposal on February ballot

By , Columbian staff writer

The Vancouver City Council decided on a property tax tool Monday to raise $72.7 million for the Vancouver Fire Department’s operations and capital funds.

Council members showed support for a permanent levy lift that would cost 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which they are aiming to get on a February ballot in 2022. City staff want to put the proposition on the ballot as soon as possible for a variety of reasons.

“I do want us to get things done quickly,” Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover said. “We have other things to tend to.”

Council members Ty Stober, Bart Hansen and Erik Paulsen stressed that fire stations wouldn’t be helpful to the community if they were covered in rubble. This sentiment echoes findings from a 2012 study that identified essential upgrades in three facilities to comply with seismic building standards.

“We don’t know when the next earthquake is going to happen, we just know that it will happen,” Stober said.

However, there were concerns regarding the timing of the ballot measure. Hansen said he is worried the city won’t have enough time to campaign and energize voters before the ballot deadline; he doesn’t want it set up for failure.

If the measure fails, Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said city staff will have more time to reassess the proposition’s framework and present it that election year. She also stressed that the responsibility shouldn’t be directed to new council members who don’t have all the prior knowledge of the current council.

Property tax tool

Council members favored the property tax tool with the quickest turnout. With the chosen levy, someone who owns a $441,000 house would have to pay $222 over a 10-year period, said Natasha Ramras, the city’s chief financial officer.

The other scenarios that were presented projected the operating and capital costs to be paid over a longer duration. Under these options, there are miniscule changes in cost. The rate under the 15-year permanent levy would be 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, Ramras said, whereas the 20-year levy would be 44 cents.

Under the city’s proposition, it would gather $10 million a year for fire department operating and capital costs, as well as $46 million in one-time capital resiliency costs.

Clark County Fire District 5 would contribute $2.8 million a year for annual costs and $14 million for capital resiliency expenses. Fire District 5 is veering in the right direction of getting a lid lift to cover its portion of the expenditures, Fire District 5 Commissioner Mike Lyons said.

Specifically, $60 million would be invested in the replacement of Vancouver’s Stations 2 and 6, as well as remodels for Stations 4, 5 and 8 to meet efficiency standards. The remaining $12.7 million would be directed toward the department’s uniform and administrative staffing, operations and equipment costs. New equipment includes a new squad vehicle and ladder truck.

The next step is for city staff to draft the ballot measure.