With the primary election on Tuesday — and with it, a ballot measure for a fire levy lid lift — the Enumclaw Fire Department wants to remind voters that call volumes are increasing at an unsustainable rate in both a financial and safety sense.
“We must be transparent to our community about operations. Our people are tired, we are struggling and response times are starting to increase,” Fire Chief Randy Fehr said in a press release. “Overtime is not financially sustainable for taxpayers, nor is it sustainable from a safety perspective for our community and our firefighters.”
According to EFD, calls for emergency medical aid increased more than 13 percent in the first half of 2022, compared to the same time period last year.
EMS calls make up close to 80 percent of all emergency calls made to the department.
Overall call volume for the first half of this year is also up 5.6 percent, compared to the first half of 2021.
EFD notes that overall call volume has increased almost 40 percent from 10 years ago.
Various factors, like increased call volume and first responders calling out sick, have forced firefighters and EMTs to take overtime. According to EFD Office Manager Ashley Winter, the average first responder at the department worked 157 hours of overtime in 2021 (22 of those hours were mandatory).
Fehr said the department had to spend more than $200,000 to pay for that overtime.
In order to address rising call volumes, the threat of increased response time, and to help the department save money on overtime payments, the department is asking voters to approve the levy lid lift on the current ballot.
If approved by voters, the lid lift will raise the current fire levy, now at $1.36 per $1,000 in assessed property value, to its maximum $1.50.
(Government agencies that collect property taxes can only collect 1 percent more in revenue in following years; as property values increase more than 1 percent ever year, the levy rate has to decrease in order to compensate).
Raising the levy by 14 cents will provide the department with enough revenue to hire three new first responders, which will allow the department to keep both an ambulance and a fire engine staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Currently, a fire engine must be taken out of service when two EMS calls come in at the same time, forcing EFD to rely on other departments if a fire emergency is called in.
Approving the levy lid lift would mean a $70 increase in the annual property tax bill for someone with a $500,000 home, from $680 a year to $750.