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Voters to decide fire issue Tuesday

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Enumclaw voters will go to the polls Tuesday to answer one relatively simple question: are they willing to pay slightly more in property taxes to fund improvements to the local fire department.

The ballot measure has a tax implication of 9.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means the owner of property (home and land) valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $18.60 annually in taxes.

For that investment, the fire department would get two additional full-time firefighter/emergency medical technicians. Also, a half-time position in the city's dispatch office would be increased to full-time status.

The fire department now has a paid chief and four full-time firefighters, with support from a crew of volunteers. The addition of two firefighters would allow for a change in scheduling and increase the hours where career firefighters are on duty and responding to calls. Response times would be decreased, according to the department, because there would be less dependence on volunteers.

The dispatch office is currently staffed around the clock as employees deal with both emergency and non-emergency calls. Bumping the half-time post to full-time status would, among other things, reduce overtime costs, according to information provided by the city.

Tuesday's vote is "advisory" only, allowing voters to make their desires known. The City Council would have to take the final step to make the tax increase official. That's because the city has declined to raise taxes to allowable levels over the years and has instead "banked" that unused levy capacity. If voters agree to Tuesday's request, the city would implement some of that unused taxing authority.

If voters approve Tuesday's ballot measure, new taxes wouldn't be collected until January of 2006. The city, however, has indicated money would be pulled from other funds to add the new firefighters as soon as possible.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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