Pierce County (WA) Fire District to Ask Property Owners for More Funding

Josephine Peterson

Puyallup Herald (Puyallup, Wash.)

(MCT)

May 24—East Pierce Fire & Rescue has filed two levy measures asking voters to continue to fund EMT staff and add staffing in Milton and Tehaleh.

The Board of Fire Commissioners voted April 20 to place two levies for property owners in Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, Sumner, South Prairie and parts of unincorporated Pierce County on the August ballot. The two levies account for two of the four emergency service levies filed in the August election.

Proposition 1, or the EMS levy measure, would renew the 10-year levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. A median home in Pierce County valued at $450,000 would see an annual payment increase from $207 to $225.

New Fire Chief Jon Parkinson said the levy provides a fourth of the department’s overall funding.

“Long term, it’s unsustainable for us to continue services that we do today, it would just be not possible,” he told The News Tribune on May 19.

The money covers paramedic and advanced life support costs. Parkinson said when patients using an ambulance don’t have insurance, the department can write off costs that would be the patient’s responsibility with these revenues.

Proposition 2, also called the regular fire levy, asks for an increase of 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value from the current $1.36 to $1.50, resetting the levy to the state-approved levy limit for fire districts.

A median home in Pierce County valued at $450,000 would see an annual payment increase from $639 to $675.

The fire levy is voted on every four years. Parkinson said the increase in revenue would allow for staffing in a Milton fire station and in Tehaleh, a growing development in far East Pierce County. A 2018 $80 million bond passed by voters replaced aging equipment and will build a new fire station in Tehaleh and replace ones in Lake Tapps, Edgewood and Prairie Ridge.

“So the (Tehaleh) building is already funded, so that part is taken care of. Now we need to be able to pay for the bodies that have to go into that facility,” Parkinson said.

The fire chief doesn’t think crews would have been able to fight the Sumner Grade fire that burned through 484 acres and destroyed four homes in September as effectively without the department’s increased staffing.

“We look at the whole thing, while tragic, it was a success, as far as, you know, our local response as well as the regional response,” he said. “If you roll back East Pierce about five years, our staffing levels were substantially lower. I don’t know that we could have seen that same outcome. I don’t know if we would have had the personnel to make an effective stop on that fire.”

If voters do not approve the EMS levy, the department will not collect any of that funding, but if the regular fire levy fails, collection will remain at $1.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Parkinson said.

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