Voters in Lacey and rural Fire District 3 have had an on-and-off relationship with their firefighting and medical emergency response services. City and rural residents overwhelming supported the 2010 annexation that brought the City of Lacey into the fire district’s boundaries — with more than an 80 percent approval rate.
But those same voters denied a levy lid lift in 2011 to keep one of the district’s fire stations open and keep more than a dozen firefighters on the job. Rural voters had also rejected a levy lid lift in 2008, before annexation.
Voters should not be so shortsighted this time. The Olympian’s editorial board encourages a “yes” vote at the Aug. 5 primary election.
Because the fire district relies on property taxes for 95 percent of its funding, when property values declined during the Great Recession and voters turned back the 2011 levy lid lift, the department faced deep personnel cuts to balance its budget.
Fortunately, it secured a $2.4 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. That allowed the fire district to keep Station 35 in Hawks Prairie open and 12 firefighters employed for two years. But the money runs out in March.
It’s critical for voters to pass the upcoming levy. If it fails, commissioners would have to close the station again and lay off at least 12 firefighters. The toll might go higher because the district would still owe more than a half-million dollars in workers’ compensation for the laid-off firefighters.
For homeowners, a levy failure this time would cause longer emergency response times and, for some, a significant hike in house insurance rates. When Station 35 closed last time, insurance rates for some homeowners in the fast-growing northeastern section of the fire district rose $50 to $300 per year.
Some homeowners whose properties were not located within 5 miles of the next nearest station had trouble getting fire insurance at all.
The fire district is asking voters to allow an increase in the levy rate from the current $1.39 to $1.50, or about $30 a year more for the average homeowner to maintain existing services. And Fire Commissioner Judy Wilson says the district would not levy all of the 11-cent increase if it’s successful in renewing the SAFER grant.
The district is also pursuing a consistent source of funding from the Nisqually Tribe. The tribe’s contribution has ranged from zero to $300,000, making it nearly impossible for the district to budget accurately.
The Citizens for Public Safety have planned a more aggressive campaign this year. Their biggest challenge may be just getting people to cast a ballot in the Aug.5 primary.
We urge everyone in Lacey and the rural areas to do more than vote “yes” on Proposition 1; please also encourage your neighbors to vote.