Guest column: Coming vote on fire department levy explained

Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 4:00 pm

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.

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Chief Mike Kytta

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.

9 Responses to “Guest column: Coming vote on fire department levy explained”

  1. JO says:

    asap, I am trying to decide if you wrote that while you were impaired or if you under educated. Departments will not walk away from a fire just because the home owner says not to bother, the home owner may have set it to collect insurance on the home.
    What department are you referring to that has new rigs every 2 – 3 years?
    Too many people are too busy with other priorities to take time to volunteer for anything in their community. Are you out there volunteering in the new world of fire department volunteer, where regulations, liability and safety concerns have increased required training and responses for the volunteers exponentially? I am and it is rewarding, but very time consuming, and even the most dedicated volunteers are not always available and most have full time jobs and family commitments that decrease their availability substantially.
    So, I challenge you to put your time were your mouth is and get out and volunteer too, if you can pass the background checks.

  2. asap says:

    it’s because when the government funds its on projects they feel they have unlimited sources of income. But the taxpayers burden is becoming overwhelming.we the people who cannot afford a brand new rig every 2 or 3 years watch our fire departments are police departments in our county departments get brand new rigs to do nothing more than harass the citizens of County. the fire department is a good thing indeed went home to built so close together that you could burn down entire city if one catches on fire and continues to burn I live in the country and have told the fire department if my house is burning let it burn there is nothing around it that can be hurt and a man’s life is not worth my building if more people took that attitude the county would not be able to f””k us out of our tax money and call it a necessity.and whatever happened to the volunteer fire departments.the county and the cities just found another way to steal your money to fund these fire departmentsoh . and these people retire become a tax burden to those who pay taxes.just go back to volunteer fireman.it seemed like they did a better job when they were volunteering and not getting paid for their work.because at one time they were all volunteer fire departments unless you were in New York Cityor chicago los angeles city of millions.no one takes pride in helping your community anymore as we did in the past or we would have never got so far in debt.so if you stop buying these 250.000/500.000 dollar fire trucks every 2 or 3 yearyou would not be running out of money because we the taxpayers have ran out of money to give you to waste

  3. Facts says:

    The RFA ran over 4,000 calls last year with staffing at 27. Today they are running with 21 with the threat of more layoffs. In order for them to transport they would need to double there staffing to cover all the calls. Every 911 call in Centralia gets a paramedic evaluation regardless if its BLS or ALS in nature. This is a huge benefit to the citizens. Yes AMR charges a ridiculous amount of money but the RFA has nothing to do with how they operate. We need to support our local firefighters and vote YES in August.

  4. Sluggdeath says:

    Firetrucks are expensive.

  5. Micah says:

    Where are all those low property values when I am looking at real estate?

  6. Grant says:

    A FIVE MILE RIDE TO THE HOSPITAL IS ABOUT 1899 DOLLARS PLUS amr GETS A BIG CHUNK OF MONEY FROM THE CITY 100,000 PLUS JUST TO HAVE AMBULANCE HERE ,. dO ANY OTHER BUSINESS GET THIS KIND OF PAYMENT FROM THE CITY JUST TO HAVE A BUSINESS HERE.

  7. What? says:

    The problem is AMR (A private company) Controls the EMS side of things and they get paid for all transports and get first priority. If they don’t want the call or cannot take it they pass it to the fire department and give a kickback to the department for the call but not the full amount. This causes reduced revenue for the fire department and makes it so AMR makes a ton of money. If the fire department was set up to collect money and accept payments then AMR could be done away with.

  8. Questions says:

    Why is that RFA never makes it known to the public how many actual calls they answer. I listen to the scanner a lot and I hear small rural departments, that are staffed with just volunteers, being called out a whole more than RFA. And why is it that when it’s a BLS call AMR responds and so does RFA. Why doesn’t RFA make the runs and only call AMR when and if they are needed. I think someone has their hands in someone else’s pockets around here.

  9. Jan Fuss says:

    Want the levy to pass? Publicly cancel all ties with AMR. We, the people, are led to believe that EMS levy collections provide for ambulance service. Get a great big sign that states, “You will no longer pay AMR $1500 for a ride across town if you pass this levy”

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