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Fire District 38 requests authorization to increase tax levy lid

One item that may have surprised local voters when they

received their pamphlet from King County for the Sept. 14 primary

election appears on page 29.

Under the title of Fire Protection District No. 38,

Proposition No. 1, it states: "Shall King County Fire

Protection District No. 38 be authorized to increase its regular

property tax levy to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, as

provided in District Resolution No. 153?"

According to the King County Assessor's office, the current

levy rate is $.94382 per $1,000 of valuation, which indicates the

rate could go up as much as 56 cents per $1,000. Therefore, the

owner of a $200,000 home covered by District 38 could see a $112

yearly increase in their taxes.

The statement adds, "The additional tax revenue is

necessary to provide adequate fire and emergency services and to

insure that the present District contracts for emergency services

will be continued."

That's led to several questions among voters, chief among them

being, if the levy increase passes, what will District 38

homeowners and businesses get in the way of enhanced services?

Conversely, if it fails, will the district lose service and

coverage?

According to FD No. 38 Commissioner Gary Stevens, a large part

of the decision to submit the levy lid increase to a vote was

based on improving service.

"As a little bit of history, we tried to get all three

local entities - North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fire District 38 - to

form an `Upper Valley fire department,' and it didn't work

out," said Stevens during an interview last Friday.

"The majority of the commissioners decided the best

avenue to provide fire service for voters in our district was to

contract with Eastside Fire and Rescue (EF&R). I think we'd

still like to have our own fire department, or our own department

in the Upper Valley, but at this time it's not feasible."

In Nov. 1998, as part of the negotiations with EF&R, Chief

Lee Soptich submitted a letter to then-FD38 board chairman Jerry

Prior. In it Soptich stated that under an amendment to the

continued service provision, the district would retain all of its

assets, would gain an additional career firefighter, and would

maintain a portion of the levy for administrative costs.

Under paragraph 25.1 of the agreement, EF&R told District

38 that it should " ... request a special election, in

conjunction with the 1999 primary election (September, 1999), for

the purpose of submitting a levy lid lift ballot proposition to

the voters of District 38. If this ballot proposition is not

approved, District 38 shall request another special election, in

conjunction with the 1999 general election (November 1999)."

In his cover letter, Chief Soptich added, "We would

encourage your commission to pursue the levy rate increase so

that additional improvements could be made in the future."

Hence, the levy lid increase will appear on the ballot.

However, the one thing no one is able to definitely pin down is

what "additional improvements" will result if the levy

increase passes.

"It was discussed earlier in our contract discussion with

Fire District 10 and Eastside Fire & Rescue," continued

Stevens. "At one time, the problem would be if we did not

get the levy raised, they would start taking assets away from the

district.

"It's the opinion of the board that even if we don't get

the levy raised, they won't take assets from us, but without the

raising of the levy, we can't get the services improved.

"With the increase of this levy lid we can get

more," he said. "Maybe an additional firefighter in

North Bend, and possibly pay for a firefighter for the City of

Snoqualmie. That would aid both ends of the district."

The Snoqualmie Fire Department currently serves part of Fire

District 38, under contract to Eastside Fire and Rescue.

Conversely, Commissioner Bill Weber isn't too sure what form

these improvements will take. He said as much last Friday.

"At this point, Eastside Fire and Rescue has made no

specific commitment to increase the level of service should the

levy lid raise. However, I have asked that question several

times, and it has been discussed among us in the past.

"There's no telling what kind of improvements could come

from all this," Weber added. "Two things I've asked for

specifically are a second paramedic - we currently have a single

paramedic with a ride-along or driver - and 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.)

manning at the Wilderness Rim station. I didn't get a yes or no

on either point.

"Their (EF&R) position has always been that since the

rest of Fire District 10 residents pay a certain levy rate, we

should pay the same rate.

"My goal as commissioner is to hold their feet to the

fire - in a professional manner - and make sure they give us the

service they're supposed to."

Apparently, if the proposition fails next Tuesday, it will be

reintroduced for the general election on Nov. 2. In fact, Stevens

said it would probably keep reappearing on the ballot until it

finally does get passed.

"It's something that's needed," he stated. "If

we ever go out on our own, we'll need that money, and possibly

more. If it's not in place at the time, we'll have to wait a full

year before we can collect the tax."

Jerry Prior, the third commissioner and this year's designated

representative to EF&R, agreed the issue would be revisited

in November, if necessary.

"That's my understanding of our agreement with

Eastside," Prior said. "Our commissioners have

discussed it as something we should do."

Stevens repeated there would be no cuts if the levy fails, but

it should be approved for the long-term good of the district.

"It is not the intent to cut service if the levy doesn't

pass," he concluded. "It's my opinion that we are

getting more than what we pay for. We haven't raised the levy in

some time, and everyone knows the cost of services have gone up

in this day and age.

"You have to think about fire protection. This contract

is good for a total of seven years, and then we - or whoever is

on the commission then - will have to decide what to do. They

could continue the contract, or they could start their own

department."

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