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Voters to decide fate of Fall City fire levy

FALL CITY - In an effort to fund increased service levels and ensure the safety of Fall City residents, King County Fire District 27 commissioners are proposing the first levy lid increase in more than 20 years.

On April 27, District 27 voters will be asked to increase the current $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation charged by the district that services Fall City to $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That averages out to about $11.67 per month per $100,000 of assessed valuation, or $3.33 per $100,000 more than the current $1 that is paid.

Currently, residents in Fire District 10 (unincorporated Issaquah and Carnation) pay $1 per $1,000 while Snoqualmie pays $1.34, North Bend $1.35 and Fire District 38 residents pay 78 cents.

The last time the commissioners lifted the levy lid was in 1982. Over the last 10 years, District 27 has seen a 44-percent increase in fire and emergency calls.

District 27 commissioner Josie Williams said it's not often that the commissioners go to the public for more money, but with calls increasing and a recent staffing schedule change, it's time.

"It's important for people to realize that along with [increased calls] and growth comes a need for additional fire and police protection," said Williams.

Perhaps the biggest switch within the district was a staff change that occurred in March, which according to Chief Chris Connor has stretched thin the six career firefighters at the Fall City station.

"We had to do that. We didn't have much of a choice to address some problems we had," said Connor.

The change to a 24-hour in-station staffing rotation came after the district was unable to respond to two alarms on Jan. 31 when enough volunteers could not be gathered.

At the time the station relied on shifts that found three career firefighters covering the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift, while the department's 14 volunteers, operating from their homes, covered the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift.

The new shifts find at least one career firefighter on hand 24-hours a day. A minimum of two career firefighters and the chief fill the day shift, while one or two volunteers and a career firefighter handle the night shift. All personnel now stay at the fire station.

Because of the smaller staff, Connor said the new schedule is difficult not only because of the odd hours, but also in dealing with cases of sick leave and vacations. A lack of manpower means fewer people doing the work of others.

Although any staffing decisions must be finalized by the commissioners, Connor said if the levy lift were approved, one career firefighter is expected to be added almost immediately with another possibly added later this year. In the future, Connor said, it would be ideal to add a third firefighter.

Although voters might remember going to the polls regarding a fire bond a few years ago, commissioners want to remind them that this issue is different.

Fire District 27 officials proposed a bond of $2.41 million in 2001 to expand its cramped quarters that was approved by voters, but under state law those funds can't be used for operating costs.

In addition to providing fire-fighting services, District 27 provides emergency medical services, swift-water rescue and fire prevention. The district also offers first aid and CPR classes and provides public education to local schools.

The District 27 levy lid lift requires a 50-percent majority for approval.

* For information about the election, visit http://www.metrokc.gov/elections/.

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