Fire District meeting draws small crowd

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Breaking News
Karyl Oules, Nancy Bolomey and Karl Jonasson have filed to fill the vacant fire commission seat. Chelan Fire Commissioners Russ Jones and Phil Moller will appoint a candidate to fill that spot at the commission’s regular meeting on May 14.

by Richard Uhlhorn

Chelan Fire & Rescue held a public meeting on Wednesday evening, April 4, at the Performing Arts Center to help explain why they want a Yes Vote on Proposition 1 on April 24.

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The PAC was nearly empty for Chelan Fire & Rescue’s Public Meeting on its upcoming Proposition 1 Vote to raise its tax rate.

The meeting was not well attended. An estimated 25 residents of the 125 square mile Fire District attended along with staff and volunteer firefighters.

The District is requesting a new tax rate of $1.32 or an increase of 40 cents per $1000 of assessed valuation. The current tax rate is 92 cents per $1000 of assessed value and if the new rate is passed by the voters in the District, it will raise an additional $864,000 bringing the total annual revenue of the District to approximately $2,856,993. Currently the District is operating on an annual budget of $1,992,993.

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Fire Commissioner Russ Jones explained the District’s current taxing situation and the fact that Proposition 1 is asking for a new tax rate in the District that will raise an additional $864,000 in its annual revenue.

Fire Commissioner Russ Jones explained that the current law allows the District to only raise its rate by one percent per year and with inflation at 3.7 percent, the lines eventually cross. “We can’t keep up with the growth,” said Jones.

The one percent rate is a function of the Eyman Initiative which limits annual revenue growth to 1% regardless of inflationand the increase in the total tax valuation of all property within the District.

The request for the lid lift is asking the voters in the District to disregard the 1% on annual increases and raise the total tax revenue by an agreed amount… in this case an additional 40 cents per $1000 of assessed value.

Jones said the increase would help save career staff, six of whom are currently being paid under a FEMA grant from the Government. This grant ends at the end of 2018. If the levy lid lift fails, these six career firefighters will be out of a job at Chelan 7.

Jones also told those in attendance that if the levy lid lift fails, it could impact their homeowners insurance rates. Ratings outside the City limits improved on April 1 and for a lot of people, that could decrease their insurance rates Jones said.

Commissioner Jones admitted that this is a pretty rough atmosphere for taxing districts to be asking for more money!

Jones admitted that it is a pretty rough atmosphere for taxing districts, particularly because of the McCleary Decision which is impacting many resident’s property taxes. “Why do we need all these firefighters,” asked Jones. “In reality, Chelan has a unique problem here.” He stated that according to the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, the population of Chelan swells to 50,000 people in the summer. “Not all of them are rocket scientists,” he quipped.

The Levy Lid lift would raise $660,000 to retain the six career positions, add another $150,000 to help maintain and replace aging equipment and put $50,000 into the revenue stream to help support the District’s volunteer program of which there are 30 new volunteers currently going through training now.

“A lot of people ask why the tourists can’t pay,” said Jones. “We are looking into that.”

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Chief Tim Lemon remarked that the District is always trying to be cost efficient.

Chief Tim Lemon remarked that Chelan Fire and Rescue has been built into a professional organization. “The biggest challenge we have is having the right resources,” said Lemon “We have 30 people in training, but the fulltime employees are our mid management team. They work to help train the volunteers. Volunteers all have families, jobs and hobbies. We are always competing for that time. They play a valuable role.”

Lemon said the District is always trying to reduce response time and be as cost efficient as possible. “We are a transparent agency,” said Lemon. “If you have questions, come in and ask them.”

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Lt. Shawn Sherman gave a power point presentation on the District’s services.

Lt. Shawn Sherman presented a power point presentation of the District’s capabilities which included its water rescue team of PADI trained divers who had six in water rescue operations in 2017. The District also has a trained group of firefighters in rope rescue work to help rescue victims over embankments and other areas where rope rescue is needed.

However, Sherman said that the majority of time is responding to EMS calls. Asked why fire trucks are dispatched to every call, Sherman stated that Dispatch never has all the details and its never known if they will be needed, even in cases that don’t necessarily require their presence.

This past year, the District responded to two structure fires, 13 cooking fires, 15+ brush fires and a number of other fires no one ever hears about. Calls were up approximately 13.5 percent in 2017.

“Standards don’t get any easier,” stated Sherman. “Our regulations are always changing.”

If the levy passes, the District will be able to retain six career firefighters which will ensure that four personnel are on duty at all times. If it fails, staff will be reduced to two firefighters on duty and volunteers will be relied on to meet the demand for service. This will potentially result in longer response times.

The vote on Proposition 1 is due on April 24. If you need more information, visit Facebook.com/citizensforchelan7 or call the District at 682-4476.

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