Elections

Prop 1 would pay for firefighters

John Miller of Lacey, right, places drainage pipes Thursday for the water retention pond at the new fire station off Lilly Road in Olympia.
John Miller of Lacey, right, places drainage pipes Thursday for the water retention pond at the new fire station off Lilly Road in Olympia. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - The city is asking voters to raise their taxes to operate a new fire station two years after they approved higher taxes to build it.

Voters approved a tax increase in 2008 to raise up to $16.5 million for the city’s fourth fire station, at 3525 Stoll Road N.E., and a training center at 1305 Fones Road S.E.. Both are scheduled for completion next year.

That amount was enough to pay for buildings and equipment, but it didn’t include staffing. The city’s plan to pay for staffing through forecast revenues fell apart when the economic crisis hit.

Now the city is asking voters to foot the bill for 13 firefighters to staff the station. City of Olympia Proposition No. 1 would permanently raise property taxes by 25 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value, unlike the earlier measure, which expires after 20 years.

Olympia firefighters say they need the new station staffed to reduce response times. It takes as long as 11 minutes to respond to a fire, and the new station would allow the department to arrive within six minutes, the national standard, according to the department.

Mike Simmons, the president of Olympia Firefighters Local 468, said the department responded to about 4,000 calls a year when he started in 1988. There now are more than 9,000 responses a year, spreading firefighters thin when they must respond to multiple emergencies at once, he said.

“This is dangerous for the citizens and dangerous for the firefighters,” he said.

The department has cut spending by $1.2 million, leaving no room for additional cuts without hurting safety, according to the department. Firefighters have offered to extend their current contract, Simmons said, which means no gains for them.

If Proposition No. 1 fails, the department will move a three-firefighter ladder crew from the downtown station, Fire Chief Larry Dibble has said.

That would reduce coverage for the rest of Olympia.

If the measure succeeds, revenue for the tax increase will arrive in May, city finance director Jane Kirkemo has said.

There is no organized opposition to the measure. The Olympia City Council unanimously voted to endorse it.

“I want you to have all the resources you need to do your job and do it well,” Councilwoman Rhenda Strub told firefighters.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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