Why we’re on the ballot
Walla Walla County Fire District 5 is asking voters to consider raising the fire levy from $1.14 to $1.38 per $1,000 during the November 2023 general election.
FOR/AGAINST VOLUNTEERS SOUGHT: The Board of Commissioners for Walla Walla County Fire District #5 approved a resolution to place a fire levy lid lift on the November 7, 2023, general election ballot. The lid lift would fund up to four additional firefighters and pay for the renovation of fire stations and replacement of equipment.
The fire district is accepting names of people interested in participating on a for or against committee to provide a voter pamphlet statement. Residents interested in participating, please contact Chief Mike Wickstrom at email@example.com by 5pm on July 21, 2023.
What we do
We provide fire and life safety services to 4,100 people over 120 square miles. We rely on seven full-time, two part-time, and 12 volunteer emergency personnel who respond to an average of 700 calls per year – of which 65 percent are for emergency medical service (EMS).
Our firefighters are highly trained to provide the following services:
· Wildland and Structural Fire Suppression
· Technical rescue (confined spaces, wilderness, water and ice rescue)
· Vehicle accidents and extrication
· Life safety programs
We operate under a balanced budget and have passed all our financial and accountability audits by the state.
How we are funded
Our daily operations are funded by a fire levy capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The fire levy funds fire services and a portion of our EMS program (60 percent). Our EMS program provides both Basic and Advanced Life Support. Our EMS levy provides funds for training and equipment only. The fire levy funds our ambulance service.
Thirty years ago, voters approved a fire levy of $1.50 per $1,000. Since then, the rate has dropped to a $1.14 per $1,000.
Why did the levy rate drop?
Each year, we are allowed to collect a set amount of revenue. State law limits us to that amount plus one percent more per year. Even if property values double, we can only collect one percent more. This means that the levy rate falls as property values rise to limit our budget to the same amount per year plus that one percent increase.
This is called “levy compression” and impacts our ability to provide emergency services.
What is a fire levy lid lift?
From time to time, fire districts must ask voters to reset their fire levies, which is known as a levy lid lift. This helps fire districts keep up with higher call volumes and costs to provide services. We have been able to operate efficiently for approximately 30 years without asking for a lid lift.
This is no longer possible. Our population is growing. Call volumes have increased 100 percent in the last 10 years and overlapping calls happen 10 percent of the time – that’s when two or more emergencies come in at the same time.
EMS accounts for 65 percent of all emergency calls
We respond to an average of 700 calls per year – of which 65 percent were for medical emergencies. Our fire levy funds our 24-hour EMS response with highly trained paramedics who provide the highest level of care called Advanced Life Support. Paramedics can:
· Start intravenous lines
· Administer medication
· Provide advanced airway management to help patients breathe
· Perform other lifesaving care for trauma, heart attack, stroke, and critical infections
Based on our call volumes, we require additional personnel to meet the service needs of our community.
Levy lid lift will reduce response times and improve service
We are asking voters to consider raising the fire levy from $1.14 to $1.38 per $1,000 during the November 2023 general election.
We do not have enough personnel to staff and operate fire engines and medic units. This delays response times.
We have a long tradition of volunteers serving our community. Lately, though, we have been losing volunteer firefighters due to the time commitment. This is something we are seeing nationwide among fire districts. We used to have 30 volunteers. Today, we have 12 – but only seven are active.
The revenue from the lid lift would fund up to four additional firefighters. It would also pay for the renovation of fire stations and the replacement of equipment without having to go into debt, which costs taxpayers more.
Station 51 needs sleeping quarters added to accommodate more firefighters to allow for faster response times in Charbonneau and Wallula. The main station in Burbank needs to increase in size to house and protect modern fire engines and equipment. We also need to improve firefighter health and safety by upgrading diesel exhaust removal systems and decontamination areas.
What will this cost me?
The average property owner of a $350,000 home would pay an additional $84 per year or $7 per month.
Fire Chief Mike Wickstrom welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and 509-547-8341.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
View our FAQ handout here.
Fire Chief Mike Wickstrom welcomes the opportunity to provide a 15-to-30-minute presentation to local groups and organizations about emergency services in the fire district and the lid lift being considered, as well as answer any questions. If you’d like to arrange for a presentation, please contact the Fire Chief at (509) 547-8341 or email@example.com.
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