Voters to decide fire station replacement
January 24, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Many Issaquah-area residents should receive ballots in the days ahead as Fire District 10 asks voters to approve a bond for a replacement fire station meant to improve response times.
Officials said a fire station built in May Valley could improve response times for rural residents and alleviate the workload for Fire Station 71 along East Sunset Way in downtown Issaquah — a station responsible for serving many neighborhoods inside city limits.
In a measure put before voters in a Feb. 14 special election, the district is asking voters to approve a $5.5 million bond to fund a rebuilt Station 78 and improvements to other fire stations throughout the sprawling district. The price tag for the rebuilt station alone is expected to reach $4.5 million.
Ballots should start to reach residents in unincorporated King County near Issaquah after Jan. 25.
Fire District 10 is the Eastside Fire & Rescue partner serving residents in Klahanie, May Valley, Preston and Tiger Mountain in the Issaquah area, plus Carnation in rural King County. The district encompasses about 130 square miles and about 28,000 people.
Officials plan to use bond dollars to relocate crews from Fire Station 78 from 16135 S.E. 113th Place near Renton to a modern facility at a more central location at Southeast May Valley Road and 207th Avenue Southeast.
“We’re looking particularly at the ability to serve a greater number of people,” EFR Chief Lee Soptich said. “It’s a one-time investment — that’s how we look at it.”
Rick Gaines, Fire District 10 Commission chairman, said a fire station just outside Renton city limits means longer response times for residents deeper inside the rural district.
“It doesn’t serve our citizens well because the response times are skewed to the far western part of our response area,” he said.
No organized opposition to the bond materialized by late January. The local voters’ guide for District 10 residents does not include a statement against the proposal.
“This is a difficult time to go to the voters,” Soptich said. “What we’re hoping is that the voters will look at us as we’ve been pretty good stewards of the dollars and we believe the service level is well-received and appreciated. We don’t go to the voters very darn often, and when we do, we try to make sure that it’s for the least amount.”
If voters approve the 20-year bond, homeowners should pay about 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — or about $3 per month for a home assessed at $400,000. The district last asked voters to approve a bond in the mid-1990s.
“The district historically doesn’t very often ask for bond money,” Gaines said. “We’ve only done it when we have a need.”
Changes in boundaries
What to know
State law requires the Fire District 10 bond measure to receive a 60 percent yes vote from at least 4,418 voters in Carnation, Klahanie, May Valley, Preston and Tiger Mountain to pass.
King County Elections is due to start mailing ballots to voters Jan. 25 and the countywide network of ballot drop boxes is scheduled to open the following day. The deadline to return a ballot via mail or at a drop box is Feb. 14.
The area served by Station 78 shrank in recent years as Renton annexed unincorporated King County land and population growth occurred elsewhere in Fire District 10. Renton Fire Station 16 is about a mile south of the existing Station 78.
“It used to be a larger area to the west that that station protected, but Renton has annexed much of that area,” EFR Deputy Chief Bud Backer said.
Officials said a relocated Station 78 should mean faster response times for residents in the May Valley and Tiger Mountain areas. Under the existing arrangement, units from Station 71 in downtown Issaquah serve calls in the unincorporated area.
“This relocation of the station, what it does for District 10 is improve response times for people,” Soptich said. “For the city of Issaquah, it provides them an opportunity to keep a resource in their city more often, where the likelihood of it being used is great.”
Funding from the bond is also meant to shore up existing facilities throughout Fire District 10. The to-do includes upgrades to the cramped volunteer Fire Station 76 on Tiger Mountain, plus improvements to volunteer Fire Station 74 in Preston. Officials could also use bond dollars to cover earlier upgrades to Fire Station 86 near Carnation.
“We are asking for a little bit more than just the station costs,” Gaines said.
The bond proposal does not include annual operating costs for firefighting equipment.
Construction should start on Station 78 in May Valley next year, although improvements to other Fire District 10 facilities could start in the months ahead.
The district intends to “to take advantage of lower construction costs in order to provide that as an optimum location to provide shorter response times to a larger number of people,” Backer said.
If the bond measure passes and the district builds a fire station in May Valley, officials could list the facility for sale. In June 2011, the district had the facility appraised at $250,000.
The independent Washington Surveying & Rating Bureau, a nonprofit organization responsible for providing property underwriting and rating information for the insurance industry, puts homes within five road miles of a fire station in a different category than more distant dwellings.
Officials said the decision to build a replacement fire station, rather than add a station and maintain the existing Station 78, is a smarter fiscal decision.
“Rather than build another fire station and staff another fire station, it’s just far more prudent to build a fire station and move the staff so that we can avoid additional annual expenses,” Soptich said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or email@example.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.