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Fire District Seeks Voter Support For Levy Boost

On Nov. 7 ballot

In addition to the many local, state, and federal candidates that will appear on the general election ballot on Nov. 7, an important "bread and butter" ballot measure will also appear in some precincts.

Voters in Klickitat County Fire District No. 3 will be asked to support a levy measure to upgrade equipment and facilities within the fire district.

"We're asking residents to approve a permanent levy lid lift to help fund repair and maintenance of the three fire stations as well as replacement of outdated vehicles and personal protective equipment," read a statement from the Fire District Commissioners.

The district covers over 50 square miles and provides firefighting services to the BZ Corner area, Cherry Lane, Mt. Brook, Loop Road, and the Pucker Huddle area, and has 27 volunteer firefighters and two part-time staff members to provide fire and medical support.

The fire district's three elected commissioners -- Terry Mitchell, Bill Mason, and Herman Donley -- voted in August to ask local voters to permanently increase the levy rate to 92 cents per $1,000.

According to the commissioners, the current levy rate of 59 cents per $1,000 valuation leaves the fire district unable to maintain facilities and update equipment as needed.

Mason said the measure will go to purchase new equipment to upgrade firefighting capabilities and enhance the safety of the volunteer firefighters. If approved, the levy measure would also help to upgrade the infrastructure at the three fire stations within the district -- at Husum, Cherry Lane, and Mt. Brook.

"For example, at Husum, roof repair is needed," Mason explained. "The roof leaks, and that causes other expenses if that's not dealt with. Also, there is an asbestos problem. Asbestos covering pipes needs to be removed or covered up. And there is a need for heating at the Husum station, which is cavernous and cold."

In addition, fire district officials said there is a need for overhead sprinklers, and a water tank is needed for all three stations.

Fire Chief Jerry Jones explained that in order to maintain and comply with National Fire Protection Association standards, the district needs adequate equipment to respond to fire and medical emergencies.

"We just can't keep up when, by law, we can only increase our budget one percent a year. What's the rate of inflation?" Jones said. "I have my fingers crossed. This would be pretty cheap insurance for all of us."

Jones added that Fire District No. 3 has tried to maintain its equipment by applying for various grants.

"In 2003, we received a FEMA grant to outfit all of our firefighters with new personnel protective equipment, and without that grant we would not have been able to provide all our firefighters with the proper protective equipment they need to ensure their safety so they are able to respond to all emergencies," Jones said. "Without them, we would be way behind in keeping up with a standard of safety for our members."

Fire district officials pointed out that new construction has added to the burden on the district's firefighting resources.

"In 2005, we responded to 56 medical, 24 fire, and 31 rescue calls in the district," Jones pointed out. "Our members meet and drill four times a month along with our EMTs, who also have ongoing training with Skyline Ambulance."

Fire District No. 3's receipts from property taxes are currently $164,894 per year. Increasing the levy to 92 cents per $1,000 valuation would increase property tax receipts to $255,262.

The proposed levy increase would also allow the district to start updating its fleet of vehicles, which are aging and in need of replacement. At present, the district vehicles include tenders made in 1968, 1977, and 1978, and engines from 1968, 1974, 1985, and 2003. There is also a 1984 brush truck, two aid vehicles (1984 and 1995), and a command vehicle from 1997.

Mason is optimistic voters will back the measure.

"I think they will be supportive," Mason said. "I think people will be sympathetic and supportive. Some of the engines we have are getting long in the tooth, and this will also help pay for safety equipment such as individual breathing devices. The laundry list is very practical, and they are items the electorate is going to see as being valid."

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