East Pierce levy lift on April ballot

East Pierce Fire and Rescue news

Correction: In the article “East Pierce Fire and Rescue propose April levy lift,” published Jan. 27, it was reported the East Pierce commissioners voted unanimously to approve of an EMS levy lid lift to go on the April special election ballot. Commissioners did not vote until Feb. 16 to approve the levy lift measure.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue is once again asking its residents for more revenue by putting a levy lift measure on the April special election ballot.

This levy lift measure comes a year and a half after the department asked voters to renew a Maintenance and Operations levy, which did not receive enough votes to pass and cut East Pierce’s budget by $3 million.

The levy lift was approved unanimously by East Pierce commissioners Feb. 16 and will be on the April 26 special election ballot.

If approved by a simple majority, or 50 percent of voters, the EMS levy will be lifted from its current rate of 44.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to its maximum level of 50 cents.

This would mean that home and land owners with a total of $250,000 in assessed property value in East Pierce’s district will pay $1.25 more per month in property taxes, or $15 a year.

For every additional $100,000 in assessed value, taxpayers can expect to pay 50 cents more per month, or $6 more per year.

Resetting the levy to its full value will provide the department with close to $62,000. Fire Chief Bud Backer said the money will be used to train a fifth medic unit in the Milton and Edgewood area, offset rising supply and equipment costs and cover election costs.

The proposed levy lift will only be for one year, and afterwards, the levy may depreciate again.

Backer said he plans to ask for additional levy lifts every other year, assuming rising property rates continue to drive the levy rate down.

“I believe that in order for us to deliver quality service, and not do an M&O, that we really need to collect our maximum between the two levies,” Backer said.

The departments currently collects the full fire levy at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value and is waiting for it to depreciate before asking voters to lift that levy as well.

Why the levy depreciates

Voters approved of the ten-year 50 cent EMS levy back in 2011.

Because the EMS levy is a property tax, departments that collect the levy are limited to collecting 1 percent more in taxes than the previous year, according to Washington Administrative Code 458-19-060.

What complicates this process is property value rates have surpassed the levels they were at when the levy was passed in 2011 and continues to rise faster than 1 percent every year.

Because of this, fire departments must lower the levy rate in order to collect 1 percent more revenue from the EMS levy than the previous year.

In 2015, the EMS levy rate was reduced to 46.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This year, the levy was lowered to 44.7 cents.

In contrast, the fire levy has not depreciated because property levels have not risen to the same levels as they were when voters approved the fire levy in 2008.

Because of the depreciating EMS levy and the lack of a maintenance and operations levy, East Pierce Fire and Rescue collects a total of $1.94 in levies, the second-lowest amount of all the fire departments in the county.

Browns Point collects the least amount of revenue at 39 cents from the EMS levy and 71 cents for the fire levy for a total of $1.10.

West Pierce Fire and Rescue collects the most revenue, a total of $3.33 in EMS, Fire and Maintenance and Operations levies.