On December 10, 2019, the Governing Board of the Valley Regional Fire Authority (VRFA) voted unanimously to place Proposition No. 1 on the February 11, 2020 special election ballot. The Board consists of the mayor and two councilmembers from Algona, Auburn and Pacific; the three cities served by the VRFA.
The measure calls for a small increase in the regular property tax levy, which is one of two local funding sources for VRFA operations. It will also result in the other local funding source, the Fire Benefit Charge (FBC), being reduced in 2021.
“Passage of Proposition No. 1 is critical for our ability to continue meeting the needs and expectations of the citizens we serve,” said Fire Chief and VRFA Administrator Brent Swearingen.
If approved, the proposed property tax levy increase would have a very modest financial impact on local citizens, with owners of a 2,000 square foot, $350,000 home seeing their total cost of VRFA services increase less than $1 per month.
When VRFA was created, the agency was funded with a balanced combination of property taxes and the FBC. With the property tax limited to 1% annual increases, the FBC has grown as a percentage of total VRFA funding. Because state law limits how high the percentage of funding from the FBC can become, continuing the current trend will lead to funding and service constraints.
“We need to be forward-looking,” said VRFA Governing Board chair Leanne Guier, Mayor of the City of Pacific. “This is a proactive step to ensure that VRFA will be able to continue to meet the needs of our communities.”
The VRFA’s service area has changed significantly since its creation in 2007, the number of citizens served has increased 30 percent and call volumes are up 40 percent.
Chief Swearingen said that this growth has been accommodated without significant increases in facilities or operational staffing, but the VRFA is reaching the practical limit of our ability to continue doing that.
“Proposition No. 1 is critical for the future of our services,” he added. “Anticipating and addressing challenges before they become major problems is a big part of being a good steward of public resources.”
“We are proud of VRFA’s history as good stewards of public funds,” said Governing Board vice chair David Hill, who serves as Mayor of the City of Algona, and is one of two remaining founding VRFA Board members. He noted the Authority’s history of all clean audits from the Washington State Auditor’s Office and its aggressive efforts to save local taxpayers money by pursuing state and federal funding sources and refinancing bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates.
“VRFA has never proposed a property tax increase in its 12-year history, so we don’t take this step lightly,” Swearingen said. “But it’s the right thing to do for our community and for the people we serve.”
The above is a press release from VRFA. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its contents.