As east Pierce County communities continue to grow, so does their need for emergency services.
During the June 19 fire commissioners meeting, East Pierce Fire and Rescue Chief Bud Backer presented a resolution to place an $80 million general obligation bond on the upcoming November ballot.
The bond would cover a smattering of improvements and expansions of the fire department, including replacing four existing fire stations, the construction of a brand-new fire station, and purchasing additional firefighting and emergency medial equipment.
If a supermajority of taxpayers (60 percent) approve the bond during the Nov. 6 election, residents in East Pierce’s district would pay approximately 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.
This marks the first time East Pierce has gone to the ballot for a bond. Until now, the department has only ran the basic fire and EMS levies on election ballots, which collect a maximum of $2 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
It is expected for the bond measure to pass an official vote during the July 17 meeting, with commissioners believing this is a situation where taxpayers either support the fire department now, or support it later when prices and interest rates are higher.
Backer said East Pierce may have its work cut out for it trying to convince the public this bond is necessary.
“One of the issues we have in trying to make this issue sellable is that, why would a person in Milton vote to build something in Bonney Lake and vice versa? If you have project needs, you try to insure everyone’s needs are being met. We’ve tried to still do that, but we do have to break it up into some phases,” Backer said.
Other issues include the other property taxes resident are already paying or will be voting on during the same election, including ST3 and a new Pierce County Library System levy.
POPULATION GROWTH DRIVING UP CALL NUMBERS
There are many reasons East Pierce needs to update their stations, said Ed McManamna, a principal architect with the architecture firm Rice Fergus Miller.
McManamna is no stranger to East Pierce’s structure troubles; he helped write the department’s 2012 Capital Facilities Plan, which is why he came back to re-examine the district’s needs and present them to the commissioners.
While there are common issues in several department stations including outdated mechanical and electrical systems, American Disability Act deficiencies, and — ironically — a lack of fire sprinklers, the biggest problem East Pierce has is a lack of capacity for firefighters and paramedics and their equipment and vehicles, which will affect the number of calls East Pierce can respond to, and how quickly.
Between 2012 and 2017, call volume to East Pierce increased from 8,300 to more than 11,000 — a 33 percent increase.
“Your service area population is going to increase by 37 percent when you look out to 2040,” McManamna said. “What that projected growth in service demand looks like… it’s expected to grow 4 percent per year out to 2040, so that is nearly double than what you’re dealing with right now.”
REPLACING, REMODELING OUTDATED STATIONS: PHASE 1
While there are numerous projects East Pierce should be considering, McManamna said, tackling every project would likely cost more money than the department wants to spend, and more importantly, than taxpayers would likely approve.
So to not break the bank, McManamna said East Pierce should only focus on the most necessary projects, or “priority one projects”: replacing stations 111, 112, 114, 118 and 124 in order to increase their capacity and decrease response times.
Station 111 — East Pierce’s headquarters in the heart of Bonney Lake — has several issues, but what’s most pressing is the city is no longer interested in leasing the building to the department.
“The city has asked to terminate your lease, so staying here, unfortunately, is not an option,” McManamna said. “Fortunately, you have property over on Main Street that was bought specifically to house a new station.”
The property McManamna mentioned is located on the northwest corner of Main Street East and Veterans Memorial Drive, across the street from Thain Thai. East Pierce bought that land in 2012, according to Backer.
The costs to build a new Station 111 is approximately $12.4 million, plus soft costs like permitting fees, legal fees, and insurance. When this station was built in 1995, it cost approximately $1.5 million, the commissioners stated during their meeting,
Station 112 in Prairie Ridge is a small, metal station built in 1976.
“It’s difficult to try and remodel that or do any addition of any size,” McManamna said. “Because it’s a metal building, those things were built just as minimal as possible, so trying to do site upgrades to it would be… one thing we can’t do.”
The cost of relocating Station 112 to the southwest to better serve the Tehaleh area in the short term would cost approximately $7.7 million, plus soft costs.
Station 114 in Lake Tapps is East Pierce’s second-oldest station, having been built around 1970, and has outdated building materials and electrical wiring.
McManamna said it may be possible to build a new station on the same plot of land, but Backer said there are sight-distance issues at that station, “with traffic moving at light speed” down Sumner-Tapps Highway.
The construction cost to rebuild Station 114 is estimated around $5.8 million, plus soft costs.
Station 117 in Tehaleh is the only station East Pierce would be building that isn’t replacing an old building.
The department already owns the 3.3 acre plot of land on the corner of Cascadia Boulevard and 181st Avenue East, which does cut down on some costs.
“I would do that toward the end of your campaign, as that area builds out more,” McManamna recommended, alleging to the 9,000 total new homes that will be built in that area.
Finally comes Station 118 in Edgewood. This is the department’s oldest station, having been built in 1948, with some additions built in 1984.
The station is so tiny, “it’s difficult to find trucks that are that small anymore,” McManamna said.
It would be rebuilt on its current location, and would cost approximately $9.8 million, plus soft costs.
In total, construction costs to build these five new stations is estimated to be around $41.6 million, with soft costs at around $29.9 million, for a grand total of $71.5 million.
The remaining $8.5 million, Backer said, would mostly go toward firefighting and EMS vehicles.
“The medic units have just been re-chassis. They look bright and shiny today, but by the time we’re done with the first phase of this project building, they’ll need to be replaced,” Backer said, adding that these EMS vehicles have a five-year lifespan due to the high amount of miles they drive.
Phase 2 projects, which includes remodel work to stations 113 in Sumner, 115 in East Lake Tapps, 116 in the Foothills area, and 124 in Milton, have yet to be seriously discussed in terms of funding.