James Koch wants to make sure fellow volunteer firefighters stay safe, so he is supporting Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety’s levy lid lift – Proposition 1 – which will be on the Aug. 19 primary election ballot.
“One of the things this lid lift will do is increase safety and response time,” Koch said. “It will also improve firefighter safety. It’s important to get this through.”
Koch is part of the three-member Citizen Committee to Pass Maple Valley Proposition 1, along with Jim Blumenthal and Paul Bokar.
If the measure is passed by voters in the district, which includes Maple Valley and some Covington areas, it will allow Maple Valley Fire (also known as Fire District 43) to restore its property taxing level to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, chief Tim Lemon explained.
As an example of what that means to taxpayers, if a home costs $350,000, Lemon said, then the owner will pay $38.50 per year toward the fire district, or $3.20 per month.
Much of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes.
“The fire levy lid lift is our operating revenue base. It’s what pays for the power, for fuel for our fire trucks, salaries, the daily operating expenses to run the fire district,” Lemon said. “It’s restoring what we have, but it’s not a new tax. If the lid is not lifted, our expenses will exceed our revenues. Then we’ll be spending our reserves and our reserves will be burned up by 2010.”
This is the fourth time since the statewide Initiative 747 passed in 2001 that Maple Valley Fire has put a levy lid lift on the ballot, but if it’s approved this year the plan is to not come back to the voters again for another six years, Lemon said.
This is thanks to legislative changes in 2006 that took effect last year and allow special taxing districts like Maple Valley Fire to set an inflationary factor.
“We set the rate at a flat 8 percent,” Lemon said. “If the growth of the community exceeds 8 percent, then we can’t exceed 8 percent. If the growth of the community is less than 8 percent, then we can’t exceed that level of growth.”
Restoring the levy will also allow the department to add staff, which will increase safety for firefighters and allow for better response time to residents in need – something Koch is all for.
“From an operational standpoint, being a volunteer on the street for a while, this will allow us to fulfill that two-in, two-out rule,” Koch said. “When there is a known rescue, it allows us to go in without having to wait for the chief (to authorize additional response). If we only have two people, we’re stuck waiting. For me, that’s not only in the best interest of our citizens, it’s in the best interest of our firefighters.”
Bokar, a Maple Valley resident, described himself as a concerned citizen who wants to ensure those who live in Fire District 43 continue to get quality service from the department.
“I like them, I like the message, I like what they’re doing enough to carve out a bunch of time from a very busy schedule to help them out on this issue,” Bokar said. “Schools, fire and police services, whether our civic leaders agree or not. I’m willing to negotiate on everything except my safety.”
Bokar said to that end, the committee has created an informational brochure on the lid lift “to inform citizens on what’s going on from a non-official, non-fire district perspective.”
The committee plans to ask local community groups such as Rotary, the chamber of commerce and homeowners associations for grassroots support, as well as support from those who are already active in the community.
There will eventually be signs, Bokar said – window signs for businesses, road signs and placards on stakes hoisted overhead on the side of the road to remind people to vote.
“This is about as important as anything else going on, and I think it’s going to be an uphill battle in this economy to get folks to open up their wallets any more than they already have,” Bokar said. “In a flat economy, I don’t want to see us forgo the essentials.”
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and firstname.lastname@example.org