CHELAN – After feeling unsatisfied with the results produced by the Citizen’s Task Force at the presentation, Tuesday, Feb. 6, Chelan Fire and Rescue 7 (CFR 7) commissioners were faced with a difficult decision. Do they move forward with the inclusion of a Levy Lid Lift on the April 24 Special Election ballot, or do they opt out of the levy placement and lose six of the district’s paid firefighters after the end of the year?
At the regular commissioner’s meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 14, that question was resonated throughout the minds of firefighters, commissioners and the audience alike.
Citizens Task Force report – final draft of presentation had still not been made available at the time of the meeting.
“I think it’s safe to say that we were hoping to see more from, not necessarily the task force members, but from the consultant,” began Commissioner Russ Jones, “as far as more definitive information as to the appetite of the community.” Commissioner Tom Peters took the moment to discuss his perspective on the levy increase. “I think part of our disappointment was that the consultant provided us with a scope of work,” Peters began, “a scope of work that provided a number of items, population growth projects, service demand projections, short and mid-term strategies, long-term strategies … many of these items that I don’t feel that we actually received in this report. I’m not even sure that the task force was asked to do that, but that was certainly part of our understanding as commissioners.” As a result of attempting to not influence any findings and standing aside while the task force did its research, the commissioners were essentially left with unanswered questions, he explained. “I think it’s something that we as a group are probably going to have to get together in a special meeting, so we can really grind this thing out and figure out where we’re going as an agency and as a department,” he emphasized. “I did this analysis because trying to have the same level of service and trying to do it on the same amount of money,” he explained, “or even to try and do it with a lid lift, it’s going to be a big sale and I think it’s something we’re going to have to talk about seriously.” Jones supplied his input, and personal experience with increasing property tax rates. “Our state supreme court and our legislators have delivered a resounding gut punch to affordable housing,” he expressed, “and they’ve delivered a gut punch to junior taxing districts. The timing for this, right now, couldn’t be worse.”
In the special meeting, Thursday, Feb. 22, the only item on the agenda was the Levy Lid Lift. As seated firefighters surrounded commissioners at tables placed in the front of the room, and essentially standing room only left in the room, commissioners called the meeting to session. “We are here at the discretion of our firefighters to have a discussion about a lid lift for the district levy,” began Jones, “the timing of this meeting has to do with the deadline for filing for an April vote is Friday (Feb. 23). We’ve agreed to listen to their presentation and hear what they have to say.” After explaining the meeting’s intent and purpose, Firefighter Shawn Sherman then began his debate on why the firefighters collectively feel the placement of the levy on the April 24 ballot is crucial at this point in time. “It’s important that our tax payers and the people that we protect,” he began, “have the voice to decide what they’re willing to fund and what they’re not willing to fund.” What was proposed by the firefighters was the maximum lid by law, which is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. “In 2006, that was proposed and passed, and that $1.50 was depreciated, so we don’t pay that $1.50 for very long. It goes down as the value of the district goes up. What we’re asking for,” he declared, “is that same thing. That same level of support from the community to continue the level of service we are currently provided.”
Sherman continued explaining that the community is growing. Tourism is growing, and developments are going up in near record numbers. “When we assessed that we needed to be able to respond with a higher or better ability,” Sherman explained, “the district went out and got a SAFER grant, and that SAFER grant got us six additional firefighters. In a way, that was an experiment to see if that would be a good fit for our agency and our community. What we would like to do today is present evidence that it (the addition of the six firefighters) was a good thing to do.” The fire districts mission is to protect property and to protect people, Sherman voiced, “the idea was that it takes people to do that, and whether we like it or not, in fact we don’t like it, we don’t like that the numbers of volunteers (across the nation) are going down. While we are being affected by that, we do have a plan that we have been implementing for years,” he stated, “to support the ability to respond immediately, and then with a sustained effort afterwards.” The fire district is hyper-focused on the service they provide, which is protection of the community and property, he expressed, “what we always want to do is find a better, stronger, faster way to fix or address those issues, and a lot of the time it takes money.” The department has financial oversight, operational oversight and citizen oversight, he stated, then reminded the commissioners sitting across from them that the focus group stated the department is indeed “operating responsibly, responding to everything they could in an efficient and effective way, and they were happy with how we looked forward into the future, how we were going to protect the community.”
In the commissioners’ conclusion of the meeting, Commissioner Peters stated that he agrees that the citizens do need to have the opportunity to decide on this levy. “I want to make it clear that we cannot do all things with this money,” he emphasized, stating that this levy should not be an ultimate means of funds to rely on. The levy amount decided upon was $1.32 per $1,000 assessed value, in an effort to request the “least possible amount necessary,” stated Commissioner Jones.
The 40-cent increase, if passed by the voters, will go to funding the six firefighters indefinitely, as well as maintain funds for updating, replacing and maintaining apparatus as needed. In an exclusive interview with Chelan Fire and Rescue 7 (CFR 7) firefighters, Lake Chelan Mirror (LCM) staff was provided a breakdown on how necessary it is to the safety of the community to retain the six firefighters. Since having a full staff of paid firefighters, the department has, for the first time been able to utilize a two in two out rule, which allows two firefighters to enter a building and combat a fire from the inside, while two firefighters remain attacking the outside of the structure. Time is additional big factor in the consideration of a paid firefighter’s role in comparison to strictly or majority volunteer based. The national average response time for paid volunteers is two minutes, while volunteers’ national average response time is an average between 10 and 12 minutes if volunteers are able to respond. Paid firefighters do not have the option to respond, LCM staff was advised, they are paid to be ready to respond 24-hours a day.
Steve Saugen, Austin Murdock, Taylor Rains, Tyee Zacher, Marco Aurilio and Joe Cox are the six SAFER grant firefighters funded through government grants through the end of the year.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here