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Fire District 5 training site under fire again

Once again, the state has criticized a local fire district’s training center, claiming it improperly uses public money for some training activities.

Once again, the fire district disputed the auditor’s finding.

The Washington State Auditor’s Office released an audit report of Clark County Fire Protection District 5 on Thursday that covers 2015 through 2018. About half of the classes offered at the district’s Northwest Regional Training Center in Orchards, 11606 N.E. 66th St. No. 103, cover occupational safety for jobs like facilities maintenance, construction and public works employees.

“State law authorizes fire districts to provide training only to protect life and property as it relates to emergency medical services or prevention or suppression of fire,” the report reads. “We have communicated our concern regarding these class offerings to the district during the past four audits.”

About 13 percent of students at the training center, some of whom live outside of the district and work for private businesses, pay for classes that the auditor contends fall outside the district’s authority to offer, including forklift training, traffic control, defensive driving and electrical safety. The report also says operations costs at the center, which has three full-time employees, exceeded revenues by tens of thousands of dollars each year.

“The fees collected do not cover the full costs of providing these services; therefore, the district is using tax revenue to subsidize those that are outside its service area,” the report reads. “Because the training center is engaging in unallowable activities, the use of public dollars to support these activities is not appropriate.”

In the district’s response to the report, attorney Brian Snure said that the “protect life and property” requirement under state law is not limited to fire and medical services.

“The authority of a fire protection district (is) to protect life and property and has never been interpreted by the courts or the attorney general in the limited manner suggested by the auditor,” the response reads. “We believe the State Auditor’s Office is relying on flawed advice from their legal counsel. This should not be a finding at all.”

Fire District 5 does not provide emergency services directly to its residents, who live north of the Vancouver city limits but generally within its urban area. Since 1994, the district has contracted with the Vancouver Fire Department to provide emergency response. Under state law, the district had to exist in some capacity to collect necessary property taxes for fire protection and to allow residents to have elected representation.

The majority of the fire district’s property tax revenue is forwarded to the city of Vancouver. The small portion retained by the district supports the three-person staff and Board of Commissioners as well as other operations, including the training center. The training center was established in 2000.


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