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South King Fire will ask voters for money in April special election

South King Fire and Rescue serves more than 150,000 residents in Federal Way, Des Moines and unincorporated King County. - Courtesy image
South King Fire and Rescue serves more than 150,000 residents in Federal Way, Des Moines and unincorporated King County.
— image credit: Courtesy image

In response to tough economic times, South King Fire and Rescue will seek voter approval this spring for a $3.5 million excess levy.

If approved in the April 17 special election, the levy is expected to cost taxpayers an extra 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value each year.

South King Fire generates most of its money through property taxes, which are based on property values. This revenue has declined 22 percent over the past three-plus years in the Federal Way-Des Moines area. The fire district reports that it operates with 23 fewer positions and about $6 million less in its annual budget. Most of the budget pays for personnel.

The additional revenue will help fund the fire district's basic operations, maintenance and payroll. The four-year collection for this levy, if passed by voters, would begin in 2013.

"This will enhance our ability to provide the service that citizens expect from us," said commissioner James Fossos.

The district's board of commissioners passed a resolution for the levy unanimously (5-0) on Jan. 26. The board also unanimously authorized payment to King County for the fire district's share in the cost of the special election. The cost is divided among the county's election participants, and Chief Al Church expects South King Fire's bill to range from $100,000 to $150,000.

"It's not easy asking for an excess levy," said commissioner Mark Thompson. "We shouldn't have to do that, but times are what they are."

On Jan. 26, the International Association of Firefighters Local 2024 and the fire district finalized a collective bargaining agreement. In the deal, employees will forgo wage increases through 2014. The union contract originally required pay raises of 4.1 percent. Chief Church expects this deal to save the fire district nearly $500,000 a year.

The board of commissioners unanimously passed the agreement. A similar concession by the union last January saved the fire district about $247,000 in 2011.

Background: SKFR's money troubles

In other recent cost-saving moves, South King Fire laid off four employees in the fall to save roughly $300,000 a year. In October, it was reported that the fire district depends on a limited reserve fund of $17.3 million to make ends meet. However, the district is required to keep nearly $11 million available in the fund to cover areas like first-quarter payroll and medical benefits.

In 2010, the district tried to address the funding shortfall with a proposed service benefit charge (known as Prop. 1). The funding formula would have charged each property owner a fee based on fire risk and square footage, and would have allowed the district to maintain its level of service at the time. Voters rejected the measure (51.5 percent) in the August 2010 primary election. Since then, the fire district has cut one of four EMT vehicles, known as aid cars, while reducing another to part-time status. The district also reports a slight increase in emergency response times.

The fire district serves more than 150,000 residents in Federal Way, Des Moines and unincorporated King County.

 

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