Vancouver Fire Department levy ahead
(The Columbian files)

Source: Google News

The Vancouver Fire Department’s fire and emergency services may receive about $15 million annually in property taxes with preliminary voter approval of Proposition 2.

As of Tuesday, Clark County Elections reported that 52.73 percent of voters approved the measure, with 47.27 percent opposing.

Clark County Elections estimated that about 17,000 ballots remained to be tallied as of Tuesday evening, with voter turnout at only 21.29 percent. The next set of results are expected out at 4 p.m. today, with finalized election results reported Feb. 18.

“It is very promising,” Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said Tuesday night. “We’ve worked so very hard, and we appreciate the community looking forward at what we have to offer.”

The ballot measure imposes a levy lid lift to generate funding to support emergency service expenditures. Altogether, the proposition will generate about $72.7 million that will be invested in additional uniformed and administrative staffing, equipment and construction, including seismic retrofitting.

City property taxes will increase by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, though total city taxes will not exceed $2.56 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for collection in 2023. Although the tax is permanent, the levy rate could decrease as assessed valuation of properties in the city increase.

Qualifying senior citizens, disabled veterans and other eligible individuals are exempt from the tax increase under state code.

Those who objected to the measure argued that Vancouver has enough money from various taxes and COVID-19 relief that could contribute to fire resources. However, supporters said other sources are unsustainable in the long term or have other defined uses.

“I am cautiously optimistic. There are still votes to be counted and it’s a close margin,” Councilor Bart Hansen said. “This will be our best shot at improving service gaps.”

He added that this effort feels like “Groundhog Day,” as the measure is reflective of years of discussions to improve community safety. Adding more personnel and response units will make a significant impact that cannot be delayed anymore, Hansen said.

Specifically, five full-time fire captains, 11 fire medics, 24 firefighters and staff will be added to the shift schedule, and a new squad truck and ladder truck will be purchased. Fire Stations 3 and 6 will be replaced, and Stations 4, 5 and 8 will be renovated to comply with building standards or necessary expansion.

City staff proposed implementing the tax tool as a solution to filling Vancouver’s safety service gap. Fire and emergency responders have not met the city’s adopted standard of responding within 7 minutes and 59 seconds for priority call and full alarm structure fires since 2016.

Fire Chief Brennan Blue previously said Vancouver’s emergency response teams must expand alongside the city’s population growth to prevent further strain on its resources.

Vancouver’s emergency services cover an 89-square-mile area with more than 288,000 people — a growth of about 22 percent in the past 10 years. City staff said the quickly evolving density, changes in call type and increased traffic congestion are stressing the fire department’s system, which is reflected in its call volume. In 2020, they responded to 29,605 calls — or more than 81 calls a day.

If the measure ultimately doesn’t pass, Hansen said, city staff will have to reconsider their approach and potentially tap into America Rescue Plan Act funds, which are provided to cities by the U.S. Department of Treasury.