Grant loss spurs Lacey fire levy efforts

Lacey Fire District 3 has learned at least one of two federal grants totaling $2.5 million will not be renewed, giving special urgency to the district’s appeal to voters for a levy increase in two weeks.

Largely because of uncertainty over the grants, the district is asking voters to approve a six-year levy that would raise the property tax assessment lid to $1.50 per 1,000 of assessed valuation from the current rate of $1.39. The increase would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $2.50 more a month, the district says.

The district proposed increases in 2008 and 2011, and failed both times.

The two federal grants, known as Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants, are set to expire. One, which is tied to volunteer firefighting efforts, expires in December. Lacey Fire Chief Steve Brooks said the district had re-applied, but recently learned the grant will not be renewed.

The other grant, which is tied to funding career firefighting positions, expires in March, but the window to reapply for the grant falls in September — after the primary.

Fire officials have said they need the increase in order to offset the money that will be lost if both grants are lost. The levy would raise the district’s total budget to about $12 million.

To make its case, the district has sent out 37,000 mailers and a citizen’s group supporting the levy called a community meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Lacey Community Center.

If the levy lid lift is approved, it is expected to generate about $1.2 million for the district in the first year, which would help to fund two stations: Station 35, which serves Hawks Prairie north of Interstate 5, and the volunteer firefighting efforts of Station 32 on Yelm Highway.

If the levy fails, it could jeopardize both operations, Brooks said.

Both fire stations have the lowest call volumes in the district, but they’re also in growing areas.

Lacey Fire also serves the Nisqually Tribe for fire and emergency response needs, and the tribe is growing, too. Lacey Fire often responds to calls at the Red Wind Casino, which is expanding, and the tribe has recently opened a much larger jail, known as the Nisqually Public Safety Complex, which will also need fire protection. It currently can house about 280 misdemeanor offenders, but the site also has the potential to expand to more than 500 beds.

The fire district also applies to the tribe for funds every year — as many organizations do that do work on behalf of the tribe — but the funding amounts fluctuate, Brooks said. The district has received as much as $300,000 in the past, but last year it fell to $12,500.

And if the levy should be approved and ,the district receives the career grant after all, the Lacey Fire Commission have the option of not restoring the levy to its full capacity, Commissioner Judy Wilson said.