Voters approve Evergreen Fire levy

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Evergreen Fire Rescue Chief Craig Williams watches firefighters working a structure fire at 551 Plentywood Drive in this file photo. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake file)

The Evergreen Fire District cited facts and figures designed to demonstrate the need for taxpayer support of a district facing the challenges of escalating demand for rescue and fire services and aging equipment.

On Tuesday, voters demonstrated they got the message, passing a mill levy requested by the district.

Ballots counted Tuesday tallied 1,060 votes for the levy and 868 votes against.

In early January, the district’s board of trustees approved a special ballot election by mail for a mill levy of 37.72 mills for 10 years. They asked voters to shoulder an increase in property taxes to help pay for new equipment and to improve wages and benefits for EMTs and paramedics.

On Tuesday, voters agreed.

Fire Marshal Ben Covington said Tuesday night that the district was happy about the results and relieved that it will have a better sense of revenue security in the years ahead.

Last year, voters rejected a proposal that sought a 70.63 mill increase that would have yielded about $1.15 million the first year. Thereafter the levy would have increased by 3 percent each year to adjust for inflation.

The Evergreen Fire District reported earlier this year that the district’s call volume increased by about 224 percent during the past decade.

In 2018, the volume increased every month and the year-end total of calls reached 2,935, the district reported, a volume that approximates eight calls a day.

“This is a lot of individuals having a bad day,” noted the fire and rescue district in a news release.

The district employs about 20 part-time emergency responders, a tally that includes both EMTs and paramedics; three full-time administrative staff; and, a full-time fire marshal and full-time fire chief.

Meanwhile, the district’s equipment includes a 20-year-old fire engine, a 23-year-old aerial truck, an 18-year-old ambulance and numerous other vehicles with a dozen or more years of use.

On Jan. 7, the Evergreen Fire District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to request the levy of 37.72 mills. It said that 12.54 of those mills would be designated to the capital improvement fund — which pays for replacing vehicles and equipment — yielding about $210,000 a year to purchase both used and new vehicles.

The fire district board estimated that the levy would cost taxpayers with a home with a taxable value of $100,000 about $51 year. For a home with a taxable value of $200,000 the levy would cost about $102 a year, according to district calculations.

The Evergreen Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the levy. A Feb. 27 letter to the community from Ken Kalvig, chamber president, said the chamber felt the levy proposal “prudently and responsibly addresses the issues of equipment aging and replacement needs, personnel needs, greatly increased call volume by the district and growth and more.”

The current levy expires June 30.

The district collects some revenue from user fees for ambulance transport services and has some general fund money. The district said that EMS transport revenue is limited and provides personnel wages below the current industry standard and cannot fund healthcare of retirement benefits.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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