East Pierce Fire and Rescue, Pierce County Library System nearly ready to celebrate midterm results

As of Nov. 14, both property tax proposals have just inched past the finish line, but with ballots still to be counted, it may be too early to count those chickens.

Image courtesy Pierce County Elections.

Image courtesy Pierce County Elections.

Nov. 14 update: East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s bond measure is currently passing with 60.2 percent of the vote. The Pierce County Library System’s levy measure is passing with 50.16 percent of the vote. There is an estimated 3,000 ballots left to count, and tallies will be updated Nov. 14 around 4 p.m.

The 2018 midterms saw the culmination of countless volunteer hours, non-stop advertisements and a steady flow of donations come to a head; for some, the hard work paid off with an elected official or an approved initiative. Others, however, are left trying to figure out next steps.

It’s not clear which group East Pierce Fire and Rescue and the Pierce County Library System belong to quite yet.

Both organizations ran propositions that would have increased their constituents’ property taxes.

The Pierce County Library System was seeking a levy lid lift so the library system’s revenue could start catching up to the increasing cost of business and service levels. The lid lift would bring up property taxes from 40 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to 50 cents, increasing the average annual tax bill from $128 to $160.

The measure fell below the necessary 50 percent of votes when ballots were first counted, but as tallies came in the rest of the week, the library crept closer and closer to their mark. As of Monday, Nov. 12, 49.8 percent of votes approved the measure.

East Pierce inched nearer to their goal of 60 percent of the vote as results trickled in, but as the old saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

The fire department sought an $80 million, 20-year general obligation bond to modernize four fire stations and build a new station to serve the Tehaleh area in order to keep up with the rising number of emergency calls, especially EMS calls. The would have tax residents an additional 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value — roughly $100 a year.

More than 59.5 percent of voters approved the measure as of Nov. 12.

The next tally was scheduled for Nov. 13, after print deadline, with an estimated 51,000 ballots left to count.

LIBRARY: SERVICES WILL BE MAINTAINED OR CUT

A renewed levy, according to the system’s Communications Director Mary Getchell, would make sure more library services wouldn’t be cut as operations costs and service levels continue to rise.

A failed levy, however, would mean “the Library System would further eliminate and reduce services including the hours libraries are open; the number of books, movies and other materials; and classes and events; as well as close two to three libraries,” Getchell said in a press release. The library system has not announced which libraries would be closed or have reduced hours.

Getchell added the library’s Board of Trustees are meeting today, Nov. 14 at 3:30 p.m. at the system’s Administrative Center and Library at 3005 12th St. E. in Tacoma to discuss election results and begin the first of two public hearings on the 2019 budget and work plan.

The library created two budgets, one taking into consideration a passed levy, and the other assuming the levy failed. Although library leaders announced they expect the levy to pass, a public hearing on both budgets may be necessary on Nov. 14 until tallies are complete.

EAST PIERCE: MODERN FIRE DEPARTMENTS OR LONGER RESPONSE TIMES

The push to modernize 1970s-era or older East Pierce fire stations and build additional stations out in growing population areas came from a multi-year pattern of rising call volume and increasing response times.

According to East Pierce’s 2016 and 2017 Annual Reports, call volume has risen from 8,300 in 2012 to more than 11,000 in 2017, a 33 percent increase.

In that same time period, response times have increased from an average 6 minutes, 23 seconds in 2012 to an average 7 minutes, 35 seconds in 2017. According to Fire Chief Bud Backer, part of the reason response times are getting longer is because of a reliance on “second-in units,” 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.

This pattern is expected to continue, said Ed McManamna, a principal architect with Rice Fergus Miller who helped East Pierce put together its plan for modern stations and the bond measure to fund them.

“Your service area population is going to increase by 37 percent when you look out to 2040,” McManamna said during the June 19 Commissioners Meeting. “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.”

Backer said in a recent interview that without larger, more modern stations, East Pierce won’t be able to add additional firefighters or paramedics to their staff, which “will no doubt increase our reliance on mutual aid units, which in turn increases response times.”

Backer added that East Pierce isn’t out of the fight yet, however. He said the commissioners will be discussing next steps during the Nov. 20 meeting if voters haven’t pushed the bond past the 60 percent margin by that time.

“Things to consider are running again in February, April, August or November next year,” Backer said. “April would most likely be the better choice. It’s not been decided yet, to re-run, but it’s likely.”

He added that it may be possible to drop the bond amount to bring down the financial impact for East Pierce residents, “but the problem is, every project is needed, and needed now. Any project put off until later would require Bond financing at that time, and the taxpayers would then have to finance multiple bonds, which would have the same or even higher impact as the single bond today.”

A small portion of the bond was also planned to go toward re-chassising EMS vehicles, which Backer said should be about at the end of their life span in the next five or so years.

If the bond doesn’t pass, “Purchasing vehicles will have to come from a combination of the Reserve Fund and Operating Budget,” Backer said. “We have to remember that any funds to replenish the Reserve Fund comes from the Operating Budget as well. Therefore, any new emergency vehicles will delay adding staffing to answer emergency calls or provide other services.”

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