In the upcoming Nov. 6 election, Klickitat County voters living north and west of White Salmon will decide whether Fire District No. 3 will receive an increased portion of property taxes over the next six years.
Fire District No. 3, which is centered in the Husum area, extends along Klickitat County's western edge from the Columbia River to 1.5 miles north of BZ Corner. The district extends east to Cherry Lane and across the Snowden area, stretching as far as Upper Courtney Road.
If passed, the lid lift will increase the fire protection levy rate $0.32 on each $1,000 of assessed value. The district's current rate is $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed value. In 2004, the rate was $0.74.
Fire Chief Jerry Jones told The Enterprise: "Every year, the assessed value of homes in the district increases and, with it, the cost of providing fire protection."
A state law restricts budget increases -- and therefore tax receipts -- to one percent over the previous year. As a result, the levy rate for each home goes down as the total assessed value of the district increases.
"Due to the vast construction in the district, our call volume has increased in medical, rescue, and fire calls," added EMT Mollie Krall. "It will continue to increase with all the new housing planned for the district."
The fire district covers more than 50 square miles of rural and residential area. So far in 2007, the district has responded to 91 emergency calls. Included were 26 responses to fires, 53 for medical aid, and 12 for rescue emergencies.
The fire calls involved houses, brush and woods, and vehicle fires. Medical aid calls included cardiac crises, diabetic emergencies, poisons, falls, strokes, gunshot/stabbings, overdoses, and motor vehicle accidents.
"We need to replace our tenders, which supply our fire fighters with water to fight fires where there are no hydrants available," explained Jones. "These trucks are a 1968 Ford, 1968 Kenworth, 1977 Mack, and a 1978 International. These trucks are old, unreliable and always in need of repair. The 1984 Ford aid vehicle in Husum has a number of electrical and mechanical problems, and can't be relied on."
Jones pointed out that the district has tried to maintain these vehicles as long as possible, but said that approach could not work forever.
"It's time to replace them, and replacing these vehicles is the main priority," Jones explained.
Other needs include completing numerous station repairs, including fixing the roof at the Husum Fire Station, and upgrading equipment such as the "Jaws of Life" -- hydraulic cutting equipment to free automobile accident victims.
Fire District No. 3 Commissioner Art House said the district is becoming more pro-active, citing efforts to place underground tanks in remote areas where there are no hydrants.
"The large house number signs we're now distributing will save time that could save a home or a life," House said.
The district is also involved in an ongoing project of home and yard inspections.
House added that the recent "Broughton Fire" demonstrated the importance of maintaining adequate space between homes and surrounding vegetation.
"The inspection is a simple process, and we welcome your call for any such evaluation, or request for any fire safety assistance," House said.
Fire Commissioner Terry Mitchell praised the dedication and contribution of volunteer firemen and urged district residents to "step up."
"Our firefighters and EMTs are people who are devoted to the community to respond at all hours and weather conditions to give aid where needed," Mitchell said. "These people spend every Monday night training three to four hours to do their job to the best of their ability for the community. They should be able to do their job with safe dependable equipment, as they are often putting their lives at risk."
Jones said he realized that taxpayers don't want to see their taxes raised.
"We've tried to operate without raising them (property taxes), but the time has come that the need is there," Jones said. "The members of the fire district put their lives at risk to respond, and they need the reassurance that they can do this safely and efficiently with good equipment."
Jones stressed that updating equipment will have an added benefit of helping adjacent districts, since so many fires are fought with departments working side by side.
White Salmon Fire Department Chief Bill Hunsaker agreed with Jones assertion.
"Any assets Fire District No. 3 can add will benefit White Salmon and the other departments in the area," Hunsaker said.