East Jefferson fire commissioners plan to discuss property tax increase

Posted 12/9/22

A path forward for East Jefferson Fire Rescue’s budget concerns may soon be in sight.

Fire commissioners will meet Tuesday, Dec. 13 to decide how to ask the public for a possible increase in …

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East Jefferson fire commissioners plan to discuss property tax increase

Posted

A path forward for East Jefferson Fire Rescue’s budget concerns may soon be in sight.

Fire commissioners will meet Tuesday, Dec. 13 to decide how to ask the public for a possible increase in property taxes to pay for fire services.

Over the summer, the department released a scoping report investigating the budget shortfalls and possibilities for a levy lid lift to bring in more money for the department after the merger with Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue.

Fire districts are considered junior tax districts, which means state law prevents them from increasing their levies more than 1 percent annually without voter approval, yet this amount has proven insufficient to the local need.

“We’re spending more than we’re bringing in,” said Fire Chief Bret Black.

“That’s not sustainable, and that’s just with the services we have today,” he said. “That’s not enhancing services, that’s not adding services that are cited in our strategic plan.”

Currently, East Jefferson Fire Rescue levy rates are 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, while for Port Ludlow, it’s been $1.02 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The levy rate for the new combined district will end up going down to 83 cents in 2023 due to the adjustment of the combined home values within the enlarged district, according to the scoping report.

That same assessment includes three possible lid-lift options for the unified district beginning in 2024: Option 1 is $1.25; Option 2, $1.30; and Option 3, $1.50.

Currently, a home valued at $700,000 paying the 85 cent rate would end up owing $595 per year.

Under Option 3, that same home owner would pay $1,050.

In that same document, it forecasts the 2023 revenue for the merged department at $11.4 million with expenditures of $14.1 million, leaving a deficit of almost $2.75 million. If it remains rising at the rate currently allowed by law, the department could possibly face a $3 million deficit in 2024.

To make due with what they have, many things have had to be cut, including new safety gear for fire fighters and training.

“We cut our training budget to the lowest that I’ve ever seen any fire department,” Black said, listing cuts to training for fire investigations, marine missions, road rescue/technical rescue, and wild land fire fighting.

To better understand what is working and what’s not, the department recently hired outside help, which took about a year to develop a strategic plan, Black said.

“It was meant to be objective and done from the outside so that we can really be honest about what our strengths and deficiencies are, and gaps in service, and then lay out a road map for how to improve our service level,” Black said.

“Tomorrow, if we have bluer skies or we’re successful in finding additional revenue, this is a plan that we already have in play,” he added.

The merger itself was a cost-saving measure that netted nearly $1.8 million over the first five years, according to the scoping report, and has helped streamline how things are run.

And while the merger was wildly popular in the recent election, earning more than 87 percent approval from Port Ludlow voters, Black is careful with the trust constituents place in his department and how the fire district goes forward with the plan that’s been developed.

“We want to be very mindful and deliberate with what we’re proposing,” Black said.

“We hold the trust that the community empowers us with in high regard, and to hold onto that trust, we want to make sure we’re very deliberate and concise and honest with what we do great and what we don’t do so great. And most importantly, what we could do better,” he said.

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