Fire district risks losing current rating
New levy will determine funding for new engine
October 26, 2023
Residents living in the District 4 Fire Department’s coverage area will have an opportunity to vote on a proposed levy increase this November when they receive their ballots, but prior to that, they are invited to attend an open house to learn more about the matter and see where their tax dollars go.
Randy Hoven, the Fire Chief for District 4, said that the department’s most recent 10 year bond expired at the end of last year, and now they are hoping to add another $25,000 to their current budget, which he estimated to be a little over $100,000, by increasing the levy rate from $0.35/$1,000 assessed home value to $0.50/$1,000 assessed value.
“Everything in the fire service has a life expectancy,” Hoven said. “We are in dire need of a new engine to replace the older one, as well as equipment. All of our PPE (personal protective equipment), our fire fighter turnout gear we wear, expires after 20 years. It has to be thrown out. If something happened...we wouldn’t be covered for liability reasons, for wear and tear and just the life of it, the break down of it.”
Tax payer money goes toward annual and emergency maintenance on all the trucks, repair and replacement of tools and gear, annual testing of equipment including hose and ladders, water and electric utilities, upkeep and maintenance of the station, fuel, everything that is necessary to operate a department.
It does not go toward salaries; every fire department in Wahkiakum County is fully volunteer.
“We just had work done on the station,” Hoven said. “Our apron out front of two of our bays was collapsing. That was a big bill.”
“The budget doesn’t go a long way,” he added, noting that the department tries to supplement it every summer fighting wildfires. Personnel can pick up some money, but when they use department vehicles to fight those fires, the department gets paid. In recent years, this money paid for the department’s newest tender.
They’ve also applied for and were awarded some grants, which helped pay for some equipment used in the field and in the office.
If the levy increase is passed, the bigger budget will eventually help pay for a new, or new to the department, fire engine, which will help homeowners living in East Wahkiakum County and the Elochoman Valley.
Every five years, every fire department in Washington state, whether volunteer or career, is audited by the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau.
A one is the highest possible rating, while a 10 is the lowest. That number affects insurance rates for people living in the district.
In 2015, the District 4 Fire Department was given a PC or Protection Class rating of 5, Hoven explained, which they have maintained ever since. It is the highest rating of all the departments, he said, and is comparable to some fine career departments in other counties.
WSRB considers the training in the department, the number of members, and apparatus, including the first line fire engines capabilities and age, district water supply, and more.
All these things go into determining the PC rating, and every five years the information is provided to insurance companies, which they use to figure out fire insurance premiums for people living in the coverage area.
One of the of the factors that determines a PC rating is the age of a department’s engines.
“Life expectancy of a fire engine is 25 years,” Hoven said. “Fire Departments receive full credit for engines that are new up to 15 years. Beyond that, you only get a partial credit.”
At some point, they receive no credit at all.
District 4’s newest engine was purchased in 2011. It was built in 2004, and when the next audit arrives, in 2025, will only receive partial credit. The department’s other engine was built in 1992, and will receive zero credit.
Hoven is concerned that their PC rating may fall in 2025 unless they can replace one of their engines.
“While we have the [older engine] and can use it, it still works, we are not getting credit towards our PC rating for tax payers, which will affect their insurance premiums,” Hoven said. “We will not meet expectations to hold our PC rating unless we can get a new to us engine.”
Career departments with big budgets can buy new engines, which Hoven estimates cost between $800,000 to $1.2 million, fully equipped.
“That’s just not possible for small departments,” Hoven said. “We paid $160-$170,000 for the last one, which was seven years old.”
District 4 Fire Department will hold it’s Open House on Monday, October 30, from 6-8 p.m. at 13 Boege Road. Hoven and other commissioners and officers will be on hand to answer questions and show voters around the station. They will explain why they need the increase and what the money will be used for.