News

Fire district asking for tax increase

By Casey Steiner

The Courier-Herald

For the first time in nearly three decades, King County Fire District 44 is asking voters to raise taxes.

District commissioners are asking patrons to go to the polls May 17 and approve a ballot measure they claim is necessary to maintain current level of service and improve emergency services to the community.

The proposal seeks to restore - for one year only - the 2000 levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, up from the current rate of $1.33 per $1,000. By law, fire districts are authorized to collect up to the $1.50 level.

If approved, Fire District 44 would benefit to the tune of an estimated $350,000. The money goes toward fire, rescue and emergency medical services.

District 44 neighbors Enumclaw/Fire District 28, sitting north of Southeast 416th Street. The district covers rural Enumclaw to the northwest of town, much of the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation and parts of Auburn, Black Diamond, Kent and Covington.

According to Fire Chief Greg Smith, the district has lost 3 percent of its revenues each year since Initiative 747 was passed by state voters in 2000. The initiative requires a public vote for any tax increase in excess of 1 percent.

"Funds to operate the district have increased 1 percent each year since Initiative 747 was enacted five years ago," Smith said. However, "The cost to operate the district has increased at a faster rate," he said.

"This is the first time in 29 years that we have asked voters to consider the approval of any type of property tax measure," Smith said.

A home and land with a county assessed tax value of $200,000 would see an increase from $266 annually to $300 - a difference of $34 - if the May 17 measure is approved. A simple majority vote is needed to pass the levy.

"The increase to $1.50 is for one year only," Smith said. "After that it would continue to reduce each year at the 1 percent restrictions of Initiative 747."

This vote should not be confused with an April levy to fund district hospitals, Smith said. While part of the hospital district overlaps Fire District 44 boundaries, the fire district will receive no shared funds for providing emergency medical services.

Casey Steiner can be reached at csteiner@courierherald.com.

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