South King Fire and Rescue is hoping voters approve a measure to fund building improvements, ranging from earthquake retrofitting to updating dispatch equipment.
South King Fire and Rescue fire officials are hoping voters pass a property-tax measure to fund station improvements that range from retrofitting buildings for earthquakes to replacing old emergency-response equipment.
Authorities say roofs are deteriorating, for instance, and dispatch technology is long overdue for updates. The investments are necessary to get the district’s eight buildings up to safety codes and to keep up with its growing population in Federal Way, Des Moines and parts of unincorporated King County, they say.
“There isn’t a single one of our fire stations that would meet earthquake standards today,” Fire Chief Allen Church said. “We want to make sure that when the ‘big one’ hits, when the earthquake hits, we’re able to still respond … instead of trying to unfortunately unbury fire stations and work out of stations that have collapsed.”
The measure would institute a 16-cent property tax levy per $1,000 of assessed property value to pay for a $39 million bond issue over a maximum of 20 years. For the owner of a $450,000 home, that would add about $72 in property taxes per year, according to South King Fire and Rescue figures.
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Fire districts across the area are facing demands to retrofit their buildings to withstand a large earthquake, said East Pierce Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Bud Backer. But since the recession, many have found it challenging to set aside funds for the construction when they’re focused on keeping operations afloat, he said.
Seattle voters in 2003 approved a levy to help rebuild the city’s firehouses, a plan that includes improving facilities’ seismic safety, and make “Seattle the most prepared city in America,” according to that plan’s motto. The effort, though, has faced criticism for ballooning costs and slow-moving construction.
The $39 million South King Fire and Rescue proposal is broken into three main spending categories; about 81 percent of funds would be set aside for the seismic retrofitting and other facility upgrades; almost 16 percent would be for replacing vehicles; and a little more than 3 percent would be for updating technology.
The district, in a special election this spring, asked voters to approve a proposal for a larger bond issue, totaling $53.7 million, and it failed. Since then, fire authorities said they’ve listened to residents’ feedback and worked to be more transparent to show where the tax dollars would go.
But Jerry Galland said that effort has not gone far enough. The resident of unincorporated King County, who hopes to secure a spot on the fire district’s board of commissioners as a write-in candidate, said the measure would waste taxpayers’ money.
If voters approve the measure, the district would immediately start making plans for construction and would make all the changes within the next five years, Church said.
Also this election, King County Fire Protection District 10 is proposing to lower the district’s property-tax levy rate from $1.50 to a maximum of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. And the Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department is proposing a measure to maintain the $1.50 rate next year, with annual increases of up to 6 percent for the next five.