The following is a preview from the quarterly newsletter from Riverside Fire Authority sent to those in its district in and around Centralia.
By Chief Mike Kytta
Riverside Fire Authority
August maintenance and operations levy to determine number of firefighters on staff with the RFA
A great deal has happened since our last publication in March where Chief Jim Walkowski made mention of the financial challenges faced by the RFA. Since that time, several important changes have been made to meet those challenges.
We have reduced the work force by one chief officer; one fire captain has retired and will not be replaced, and three firefighter paramedics have been laid off. We plan to lay off two more firefighters this summer which will leave approximately 20 firefighters to answer emergencies around the clock. The operations budget that funds our day-to-day activities has been reduced, leaving limited funds to pay for vehicle repairs and basic facility maintenance. All planned firefighting equipment replacements are suspended.
Why is this occurring?
Declining home values and the rapid reduction of assessed value at TransAlta’s power plant since the plant closure announcement have combined to create a perfect storm.
The RFA is almost entirely funded by property taxes. When values go down, so do tax collections. Property tax revenue at the RFA has dropped approximately 18 percent, $700,000 in just two years, and the forecast for next year predicts even greater loss. Lower property values and tax revenues being diverted to other local government entities may reduce RFA funding by another $600,000, bringing the total RFA revenue reduction since 2013 to approximately $1.3 million dollars – approximately 30 percent of our total budget.
How will it affect service?
The direct impact to emergency services is reduced staffing. Last year at this time there were six firefighters between the Pearl Street and Harrison Avenue stations on duty around the clock; this year there are four. The 2014 budget cannot fund overtime to replace firefighters who are on leave so it is predictable that occasional station closures will be necessary this year when staffing drops to three firefighters on duty. The budget forecast for next year could routinely bring staffing down to only three on duty.
What is the proposed future action?
With this in mind, the RFA Board of Fire Commissioners has determined that the quality and reliability of fire and rescue services will be reduced to an unacceptable level before the end of 2014 and therefore the RFA must ask the citizens to consider a new maintenance and operations levy at the primary election in August. The new levy, if approved by the voters, will be collected in 2015 at the same time the next drop in property tax revenue is expected. The intent of the levy is to stabilize the budget at the current reduced funding level.
The levy will not return the RFA budget to the higher amount of taxes collected in 2013. Levy dollars will be used for fire protection and rescue services, facilities, maintenance, staffing and operations. The estimated levy rate is $0.49 cents per $1,000 of value, collecting $800,000 annually. For a $150,000 home and property, the estimated annual tax is $73, which comes out to just over $6 per month. By state law, maintenance and operation levies are limited to one year; all future levy requests will be subject to a vote of the people. We believe that with the combination of downsizing the RFA, utilizing cost saving strategies, and the addition of the annual maintenance and operations levy, an acceptable, but not optimal level of service can be provided.
Public meetings to discuss the proposed maintenance and operations levy are scheduled for:
July 9, 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Creek Grange
July 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Stillwater Estates Club House
July 23, 6:30 p.m. at the 1818 Harrison Avenue Fire Station.
I am available for your questions at 736-3975 and my office is located at the Harrison Avenue Fire Station.