Graham Fire and Rescue’s bid for a four-year maintenance and operations levy is being turned down by voters.
In unofficial results from voting that ended Tuesday in the primary election, the levy was short of the 60 percent approval margin that’s required for it to pass. The measure also needed at least 2,592 yes votes to pass – a number it was easily exceeding at 3,363 yes votes. But its approval rate was 58.5 percent.
The levy would cost taxpayers in the fire district $2.75 million per year. Starting in 2015 and ending in 2018, the money would be collected at a rate between 52 cents and 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to help pay for fire and emergency medical services.
Fire districts depend on property taxes for funds to operate on and can only increase their rate tax collection with voters’ approval. Officials said Graham Fire has experienced a decrease of more than 20 percent in assessed valuation of property since 2008. During the same period, calls for service have increased more than 14 percent and are expected to keep increasing 3 to 6 per cent per year.
Last year’s calls totaled 5,644, 70 percent of them for medical emergencies. This year, if the rate that calls came in during the first three months continues, 5,965 will be handled by the end of 2014, according to district statistics.
If the new levy is rejected by voters, the trend of decreased staffing, longer response times and fewer units to answer calls would continue, and it would be harder for the district to pay for repairs to fire stations and fire trucks, officials said.
The district, which has six fire stations serving a 70-square-miles area of approximately 61,000 people, answers about 16 calls per day with 11 firefighters and paramedics “as our minimum daily staffing,” said fire chief Ryan Baskett. The agency has 53 career and 20 volunteer⁄resident firefighters.