The general election is fast approaching, and with it, East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s first-ever general obligation bond measure.
Ballots will be mailed to district residents on Oct. 19, who are given until Nov. 6 to decide whether to approve or reject the department’s $80 million proposal.
The bond should be old news for many residents, as Fire Chief Bud Backer and his staff have made the rounds to his department’s various city residents and their councils to present why the measure is important, and how local residents will benefit from it.
According to Backer, the 20-year bond measure will allow the department to modernize stations to keep up with rising call volumes, especially for medical services.
“Unlike other capital projects in this area, you’ll see results of this in just a few short years, as opposed to 20 or 30 years down the road,” Backer told the Bonney Lake Council in July. “As one citizen advisory person put it, ‘I’ll probably never ride that train, but I’ll be looking up into the eyes of a paramedic one of these days.’”
If a supermajority of voters (60 percent) approve the measure, residents will be taxed an additional 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.
For a home valued at $400,000, this equates to roughly $8.33 a month, or about $100 a year.
WHAT THE BOND FUNDS
The vast majority of the bond money, roughly $71.5 million, will go replacing five East Pierce fire stations.
Station 111, the department’s headquarters in Bonney Lake, will be replaced by a new station almost across the street. This station is relocating, Backer said, because the city of Bonney Lake no longer wants to lease the current building to the department.
A brand-new Station 117 will be built for the Tehaleh area on the corner of Cascadia Boulevard and 181st Avenue East.
East Pierce already owns the land for the new Station 111 and Station 117.
Stations 112 in Prairie Ridge, 114 in Lake Tapps, and 118 in Edgewood will also be replaced due to the age of the buildings — the Edgewood station was built in 1948, and the others built in the 1970s.
The remaining $8.5 million, Backer said, will go toward re-chassising EMS vehicles.
East Pierce’s remaining stations — Stations 113 in Sumner, 115 in East Lake Tapps, 116 in the Foothills area, and 124 in Milton — may receive upgrades in the future, but those projects are not a part of this obligation bond.
WHY THE BOND IS IMPORTANT
Modernizing the stations, Backer hopes, will allow the department to have room for more first responders and equipment to push against rising call volumes and decrease the district’s reliance on what they call “second-in” units.
Between 2012 and 2017, the department saw a 33 percent increase in call volume without the district getting larger, Backer said.
Just between 2016 and 2017, the department saw an increase of nearly 1,000 calls.
And according to Ed McManamna, a principal architect with the architecture firm Rice Fergus Miller who helped East Pierce put together the capital improvements plan the bond funds, call volume is expected continue to rise.
All these additional calls have affected response time, because first responders find themselves relying more on second-in units to get to emergencies.
A second-in unit is when first responders who’s station is closest to an emergency are already on a call, meaning responders at a station further away are the ones who get on scene first.
According to East Pierce’s 2017 annual report, “second-in” reliance is having a strong effect on response times.
The report, published early September, shows response time has risen from an average of 6 minutes, 26 seconds in 2012 to an average of 7 minutes, 35 seconds in 2017.
Backer said the increase in recent average response times is due to an over-reliance on second-in units.
The report stated the average response time in 2016 was 8 minutes, 42 seconds, but Backer said this was most likely an error, and should be closer to 7 minutes 10 seconds. The correct time couldn’t be confirmed before print deadline.