South King Fire levy fails by less than 1 percent | ELECTION

Results for the April 17 special election show South King Fire and Rescue’s excess levy, also known as Proposition 1, falling short with 59.29 percent of voters (10,919) saying yes as of Thursday’s count.

For the levy to pass, 60 percent of voters need to say yes, with a minimum voter turnout of 13,073. So far, the King County Elections website reports that 18,433 votes have been cast for this ballot measure. Final results for this all-mail special election will be posted April 27.

If approved, the levy is expected to generate $3.5 million per year for four years. About $1 million will return one emergency aid car to service. The staffing equivalent of one-and-a-half aid cars was taken out of service in 2011 due to budget cuts.

All SKFR personnel are trained in both firefighting and emergency medical services (EMS). Most of the district’s roughly 15,000 calls per year are EMS calls. In 2011, the district responded to 75 structure fires.

Restoring the aid car and staff will help stabilize response times between four to six minutes. Money from the levy is expected to protect the fire district’s reserve fund, which is filling a budget gap. With the levy, the level of service will be at 2007-2008 levels, according to the fire district.

The levy will cost taxpayers an average of 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value. This amounts to about $5 a month for the average home.

Should the levy fail in this special election, the fire district faces cuts to personnel and service. South King Fire officials are waiting for the final results before deciding what to reduce, or whether to pursue another levy with voters.

“We’re certainly encouraged by a near 60 percent,” said Gordie Olson, assistant chief. “That shows us that for one, people seem to understand the needs that we have and are supportive of what we do.”

South King Fire and Rescue serves more than 150,000 residents in Federal Way, Des Moines and unincorporated King County.

The fire district last asked voters for financial help back in 2010, when a proposed service benefit charge failed at the polls. For the 2012 levy, the fire district sent mailers to voters with information about the levy, and also hosted a trio of sparsely-attended town hall meetings.

As property tax revenue has declined over the past five years, South King Fire has been making incremental cuts in personnel and equipment. Most of the fire district’s revenue comes from property taxes. In 2011, South King Fire’s total operating expenses were $22,522,445.

The opposing statement in the voters pamphlet says the district needs the additional funding provided by the levy. However, the statement against Prop. 1 in this year’s special election calls for more efficiency in the fire district. The statement calls the levy a “desperate stop gap action,” and the statement’s authors suggest a future fixed-cap service benefit charge instead of a levy.

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