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March 2, 2024

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Ballots on way for special election to benefit Vancouver Fire Department

Voters to decide on property tax hike to support agency

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
Firefighter Paramedic Lyle Mann hoses down the vehicle bay at Vancouver Fire Station 2. City staff are presenting a measure that would collect $72.7 million in taxes for fire and emergency improvements.
Firefighter Paramedic Lyle Mann hoses down the vehicle bay at Vancouver Fire Station 2. City staff are presenting a measure that would collect $72.7 million in taxes for fire and emergency improvements. (The Columbian files photos) Photo Gallery

Registered voters living in Vancouver city limits will consider a property tax increase on the Feb. 8 Special Election ballot that would contribute about $15 million a year to the Vancouver Fire Department.

The city of Vancouver adopted a resolution on Dec. 6 to impose a levy lid lift to fund fire and emergency services. That tax approach is the fastest way to generate needed revenue to support the emergency service expenditures out of options previously reviewed by the city council.

Under Proposition 2, city property taxes would increase by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, with total city taxes not exceeding $2.56 per $1,000 assessed valuation in 2023. This levy will be used to calculate following levy limits if passed.

State code exempts qualifying senior citizens, disabled veterans and other individuals from the tax increase.

In a statement supporting the measure, Mary Elkin, councilor Bart Hansen and Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle wrote that additions and upgrades are essential for the safety of the community.

The Vancouver Fire Department’s emergency responders serve more than 288,000 people within their service area and responded to 29,605 calls in 2020, which equates to more than 81 calls a day. An increase in funding would assist their essential services, they wrote.

Richard Rylander wrote against the measure, arguing that the city has enough revenue from COVID-19 relief and various taxes. Revisions should be made to 911 call procedures to mitigate additional emergency response funding instead of requiring the levy lid lift, he wrote in a rebuttal statement.

“Make them use existing money and stop soaking the taxpayers,” Rylander wrote.

Supporters of the proposition said other sources of revenue are unsustainable in the long term or are dedicated to other uses other than fire and emergency services.

“This levy is permanent because the need to hire and retain additional firefighters to improve safety of our community is permanent,” they wrote.

Fire department officials initially presented the need for more resources during an October council meeting.

The fire department does not fulfill the city’s adopted emergency response time of 7 minutes and 59 seconds. Vancouver’s rapid city growth in combination with call concurrency and strained resources contribute to the service level gap.

About $60 million would be invested in replacing Vancouver Stations 2 and 6. Stations 4, 5 and 8 would be remodeled to meet efficiency standards. An additional $12.7 million would provide more uniform and administrative staffing, operations and equipment costs.

The resolution would take effect immediately after the city council adopts it. City staff will reassess the levy lift framework and present it again if it doesn’t pass in the February election.

Voters can deposit their ballots in a drop box by 8 p.m. Feb. 8 or return it through the mail if it’s postmarked by that date.

Those who do not receive a ballot by Jan. 27 should contact the elections office at 564-397-2345. Prospective voters can register or update existing registrations online or via mail though Jan. 31 or in person by 8 p.m. Feb. 8.

Initial results will be ready by 8:30 p.m. Feb. 8 and the official results will be announced and certified Feb. 18.

Columbian staff writer