News

Levy is bill for fire aid

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

The Federal Way Fire Department will ask voters this September to re-authorize its fire levy at the current rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

While the rate will the stay the same, officials said an increase in property values over the past year means the the district will bring in more money — and property owners will have to pay a little more for the tax — if the levy is approved.

The money would be used to keep firefighters’ pay competitive with other districts and to account for cost-of-living increases in firefighters’ paychecks.

Tax revenue also would allow the Federal Way district to keep up with rising costs of supplies and equipment, oil changes and gasoline.

Fire Department spokeswoman Monica Colby said passing the levy would allow the district to continue providing the current level of service — there aren’t increases or expansions planned in the next year — in light of rising costs.

There aren’t many places the district could cut in its current budget if it wants to continue operating at the level at which it’s operating now, Colby said.

She said if there were:

• Cuts in training, firefighters wouldn’t be adequately prepared.

• A cutback on public education, the district wouldn’t be able to offer some of the free classes it offers now.

• A trimming of supplies, firefighters wouldn’t have the equipment they need.

• And a cut in pay, the district won’t have the firefighters.

Every year, local technical schools send fire districts a list of their top fire sciences students. Each department sends those students a letter inviting them to test for jobs. The best recruits might get invitations from several fire districts in the region. Ultimately, the applicants get to pick and choose where to test and where to stay.

The opportunity for growth and the culture or friendliness of the department are important, Colby said, but pay is a big factor in determining where a new recruit will decide to go.

Just as firefighter testing is competitive, so is getting those top firefighter recruits to pick Federal Way over other districts. So far, opportunities, culture and pay apparently have been competitive enough to draw the top picks; Colby said Federal Way has been able to nab the top students over the past several years.

But firefighter pay isn’t the only budget item that’s increased over the past year. Colby said firefighters’ life and health benefits have increased too, as have the cost to purchase and maintain fire trucks and engines, disaster supplies, helmets, uniforms and bunker gear for firefighters and firefighting equipment.

In addition to fighting fires and responding to other emergencies, the fire district:

• Cleans up hazardous materials spills.

• Teaches fire safety in public classrooms.

• Provides bike helmets at cost.

• Teaches first aid and CPR at a low cost to the public.

• Installs smoke alarms for free for those who can’t afford them or can’t do it themselves.

• Checks senior citizens’ homes for risks that could cause falls.

“There are places to cut, but that means cutting back on services,” Colby said.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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