Clallam Fire District 2 officials eye options after levy failure

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 2 will work with the district’s commissioners in the coming months to figure out how to continue funding three full-time firefighter/paramedics after district voters rejected a property tax levy increase.

“Quite honestly, we were dismayed that the voters didn’t see the benefit,” Fire Chief Sam Phillips said Wednesday after the initial count of ballots in Tuesday’s general election.

Plans ultimately will be up to the district’s three fire commissioners, though Phillips said he likely would recommend against another levy request in February, the soonest another measure could be brought to voters.

“I don’t see that as an option,” Phillips said. “I believe the voters have spoken.

“We want to have good brainstorming sessions with our staff and make the best possible decisions.”

Election results

The proposed levy lid lift failed after 57.34 percent, or 1,188 voters, of the district’s 2,072 residents who returned ballots voted against the measure. It needed a simple majority for passage

Voting in favor were 884 registered voters in the district, or 42.66 percent.

The Clallam County Auditor’s Office counted Tuesday 15,348 ballots, or 32.89 percent, of all 46,665 ballots mailed countywide to registered voters.

About 5,000 ballots were on hand but uncounted, and more are expected later this week.

The next count will be by 4:30 p.m. Friday, County Auditor Patty Rosand said.

The measure would have increased the existing levy from 76 cents of property tax for each $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.15 per $1,000.

This would mean, for example, an increase of $78 annually on a home valued at $200,000.

Fire District No. 2 covers an 85-square-mile area that includes Dry Creek, Black Diamond, Dry Creek, Lake Sutherland and Gales Addition.

Plans for tax hike

Phillips said the money raised for the levy increase would have continued to fund the district’s three full-time and three part-time firefighter/paramedics brought in when the district’s fourth full-timer left for a job at the Seattle Fire Department.

The four full-timers initially were funded through a 24-month, $422,140 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, that expires next September, Phillips said.

If the money ran out tomorrow, Phillips said he would have to hand layoff notices to the firefighter/paramedics funded through the grant.

Constant coverage

The increase also would have established 24/7 medical and firefighter coverage for the district’s 9,500 residents, Phillips has said.

Phillips said expanding coverage without a tax increase is another topic to be discussed with fire district commissioners.

The district has 35 volunteer firefighters and four fire stations, Phillips added.

Two of the district’s stations are staffed with two firefighters each from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Volunteers cover after business hours and on weekends.

So far, the fire district has been reimbursed $189,305 through the federal grant, Phillips said, leaving $232,835.

Seeking grant extension

Phillips said he plans to approach FEMA about extending the grant deadline.

“An extension using the current grant money is the best we can hope for,” he said.

Opponents of the proposed 51 percent levy increase raised $12,050 through the Citizens Against Fire District 2 Levy committee as opposed to the $5,650 raised by the Committee to Support Clallam County Fire District 2.

Eric Foth, chairman of the anti-levy committee, said Wednesday he did not think the amount of money raised had anything to do with the outcome of the election.

Sequim-based company

“The voters pretty much accepted our argument over the chief’s,” Foth said.

Of the amount in opposition, $4,250 was from employees of Sequim-based Olympic Ambulance.

Owner Bill Littlejohn had said if the increase were approved, Olympic Ambulance would lose the long-distance, advanced-life-support transports from Olympic Medical Center to Seattle hospitals because his paramedics would lose their certifications.

Paramedics must show they have done specific procedures a certain number of times to retain certification.

In a Wednesday interview, Littlejohn said he was happy with the levy increase’s rejection.

“I’m obviously pleased. I expected the voters of District 2 to turn it down,” he said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 06. 2013 5:52PM
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