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King County Fire District 44 seeks levy funding

For the first time since it was established in 1953, King County Fire District 44 officials will ask voters for a levy beyond its current funding through property taxes.

Also known as Mountain View Fire and Rescue, the district's Board of Commissioners approved putting a levy on the April 23 special election ballot. If passed, the additional revenue from the four-year levy would allow the district to maintain its current staffing levels.

According to information provided Mountain View Fire Chief Greg Smith, a 39.8 percent drop in assessed property values during the past four years in Fire District 44 have led to a substantial drop in its revenues, more than $1.8 million since 2008. As a result of this dip, district officials have cut five administrative, support and maintenance positions nor was a vacant firefighter position filled in the past two years.

"I have been the fire chief here for 20 years," Smith said in the release. "Never has the economic impact of property values obstructed our capacity to maintain a minimum level of service. We have always been able to find an avenue to overcome a couple years of declining property values, however, never have these circumstances persisted this long."

During the past two years District 44 has supplemented its budget with emergency reserve funds and officials expect assessed property values to drop another 9.21 percent this year, which would reduce operating revenues an additional $283,685.

District 44 currently collects $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. If the levy is approved, the additional maximum tax is estimated to be no more than $31 more a year or $2.58 a month for $100,000 assessed valuation.

Mountain View Fire has a mix of career and volunteer firefighters. There are 17 career firefighter/EMTs who work out of three stations to provide daytime response while there are an average of 75 to 100 volunteers who work out of eight stations and cover 70 square miles. One station is staffed by a captain and full-time firefighter 24 hours in order to provide supervision as well as oversee operations in the evenings. Two stations are staffed by career firefighters from 6 a.m. to p.m.

About 70 percent of the 1,700 incidents district personnel respond to annually are medically related.

Smith said in a release that district officials do not anticipate laying off career firefighters in 2014 but there would be no money to fund overtime costs when firefighters are out sick or vacation.

Two public meetings are schedule to provide information on the levy:

• 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, Station 95, 32316 148th Ave. S.E., Auburn

• 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, Station 96, 17920 400th Ave. S.E.

Smith said in the release he believes this is a short-term need and will help District 44 get through the tail end of the recovery from the recession. The levy, if approved, would allow the district to preserve its current staffing levels and continue to respond to the more than 32,000 people who live in its boundaries.

"It appears that property values are on their way back up," Smith said. "This levy should be the helping hand we need to get us through until we see revenues return to what they were prior to the recession. It took us a couple of years to see the true impact of property value decline — it will undoubtedly take a couple of years for improvements in values to rectify our funding situation."

For more information look to District 44's website, www.kcfd44.org or contact Smith at 253-735-0204 or email him at info@kcfd44.org.

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