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Fire District 20 voting on higher property tax to maintain service levels, staffing

Voters in King County Fire District 20, which includes the neighborhoods on West Hill, are voting in the Nov. 6 general election on an excess property-tax levy to ensure the district can maintain adequate service levels and staffing.

The levy, Proposition No. 1, supports the district's fire protection and emergency medical services, facilities, maintenance, staffing and operations.

The current levy to support fire district operations is $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value for a property. The four-year excess levy is asking for approximately 60 cents per $1,000 for the first two years and approximately 90 cents for the last two years, for a total of $3 million.

“Without approval of the levy, the fire district will not be able to maintain adequate staffing and service levels provided within the limitations of the district’s regular tax levy. This levy will provide the funds necessary to retain firefighters and maintain service levels,” said Dave Nelson, the district's public information officer.

He pointed out that the costs of providing fire prevention, fire suppression and emergency medical services have increased because of specialized equipment, personnel training, supplies and reporting required by county, state and federal regulations.

As assessed property values continue to decrease in on West Hill, the fire department’s primary source of revenue is projected to fall short of covering the cost to operate the district, he said.

Revenues in 2012 are expected to be 21 percent lower than in 2009. Projections from King County estimate another 25 percent decrease by 2016 if these trends continue.

The fire district has not laid off any personnel but has reduced expenses by 16 percent in many areas, including travel, training and moving all first-response vehicles and personnel to the main Skyway fire station, Nelson said.

At the same time, voters on West Hill will decide whether to annex to the City of Renton. If annexation is approved, the fire district will exist until the City of Renton sets an effective date for the annexation.

After the effective date of annexation, the residents would no longer pay the fire district levy.

Fire District 20 includes both career and volunteer personnel. There are 13 officers and 33 firefighters. The district has a public information officer, a safety officer, two chaplains, and a full administrative staff, including a fire chief.

District personnel respond to more than 2,000 calls for service annually with nearly 80 percent of those medically related.

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