Fire department floats fall ballot measure

"Area residents will see a levy measure from the Federal Way Fire Department on the Nov. 14 ballot.The department will ask voters whether they want to keep the present levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That's $150 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home.The decision to place the matter on the ballot came this week. The department's five commissioners decided to spend the $20,000 ballot cost in anticipation of a Washington State Supreme Court ruling on the legality of Initiative 695. The ruling is expected in December.The initiative, passed last year, lowered car tabs for Washington residents to $30 plus various fees and also requires state, county and local governments to obtain voter approval for tax and fee increases.If I-695 were to be upheld it freezes funding, said fire department administrator Jim Hamilton. Any money we ask from then must go to a vote of the people.The levy rate is needed, Hamilton said, so the department can maintain funding for emergency response service to Federal Way residents. This includes labor costs and expenses such as gasoline, for example.But if the state Supreme Court strikes down I-695, the department's ballot resolution won't be needed. Then it will be a moot point, said fire commissioner Dean Gullikson of the possibility that I-695 will be struck down.The deadline to place a resolution on the ballot is Sept. 22, far before I-695's December court date.The problem department officials faced was committing the $20,000 it costs to get the measure on the King County ballot. The question we had to ask was do we put something on the ballot to cover inflationary issues (just in case), Hamilton said, noting that the inflation rate is 3.4 percent. Without voter approval you're freezing funding.Hamilton says the levy rates help cover department expenses such as upkeep and maintenance of equipment and labor costs.You just can't say there is no inflation, Hamilton said. Do we want to put something out there on the ballot that would protect our fire services and have the citizens have a say about that? We're meeting the intent and spirit of I-695.This year's ballot resolution is similar to the one the fire department successfully fielded to voters last year when commissioners weren't sure if I-695 would pass in 1999, Gullikson said.We agreed to place this on the ballot because we have no decision as to what's going to happen with 695, if the courts act then we react, Gullikson said. We are fiscally responsible, and it will be just like the ballot we had last year.The Federal Way Fire Department covers 34 miles and serves about 100,000 people. The department responded to more than 9,000 medical and fire calls last year. "

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