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Objects to Fire District’s hope to increase tax rate
I read with dismay the article about the proposed fire tax rate increase for District 28 in the Dec. 14 Courier-Herald. It seems that in these tough economic times with tight budgets that the fire district could have shown some financial restraint. When they took over operation of the city fire department in 2009 there were $2 million in district reserves. What happened to that money? Now Fire District 28 wants even more property tax money? I object to this proposed rate increase for three reasons.
First, does the district need more firefighters? The city hired three new full-time firefighters in 2009 to add a third shift. This move increased the number of fire personnel from 8.5 to 11.5. Within approximately 30 days of going to the district all the fire employees got substantial raises. In 2011 the fire district hired 6 more full-time firefighters, part of it from reserves, part from a two-year grant. Now, the proposal is to increase that number to 18 firefighters by 2018! The three additional firefighters hired in 2009 were able to cut down response time to acceptable levels.
Since that time, based on the last census, the population of the city has decreased, as have property valuations. Does the district really need that many firefighters to do their job?
Second, does the fire district need to build a new headquarters when $528,000 was spent in 1999 on a remodel of the current headquarters, not to mention a new roof in 2010 at a cost of $165,000? True, a new, shiny building would be nice, but the old one is quite functional. I’m reminded of owners of professional sports teams demanding upgrades to the Kingdome and KeyArena because they weren’t fancy enough even though KeyArena had been renovated just a few years before. We also saw the tearing down of the Kingdome so two new stadiums could be built. Was that really necessary? $1.5 million for a new building is quite a contrast to the $100 per year paid to the city for our old fire station.
Third, and most importantly to me, increasing the fire district tax rate means there will be less money for the city from property taxes. Now that the fire district has a primary position to the city in regard to property taxes, the city will lose that much income to run its operations. The more the fire district receives, the less the city has to pay for other things like police, streets, and parks. In short, there is only so much in the way of tax dollars that can be mined from this community, especially in tough economic times, and fire needs to be cognizant of that.
I urge the voters in Fire District 28 to reject the levy request set for April 2012. Increasing costs and taking money from the city was not what the voters or the Enumclaw city council had in mind when we/they voted to transfer operation of the fire department to District 28. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I voted for it.
Editor’s note: Richard Elfers is a member of the Enumclaw City Council. His term expires Dec. 31.