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Battle Ground, Fire District 3 annexation on track

Resolutions to annex Battle Ground into Clark County Fire District 3 were passing easily Tuesday night.

The annexation required that voters in the city and the current permanent district boundaries pass separate resolutions by a simple majority. The Battle Ground resolution was passing by 82.02 percent, and the fire district resolution was ahead 74.89 percent.

Battle Ground has contracted with the fire district since 2016. Including the city, the district covers roughly 90 square miles that also include Hockinson, Venersborg, Heisson and Brush Prairie. About 40,000 residents live in the district, shared almost evenly between the city and other areas.

Annexation would take effect in January 2021, when the contract expires. The city would need to renegotiate a fire services contract with Fire District 3 or another agency if voters rejected annexation.

“We’re feeling elated right now,” Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman said. “It was a huge group effort, and I can’t thank the citizens of Battle Ground and Fire District 3 enough.”

Battle Ground property owners currently pay a property tax to the city, which then pays the fire district to provide services.

The current contract, about $3 million per year, consumes 21 percent of the city’s general fund budget and eats up nearly all of its property tax revenues. With annexation, city residents would be required to pay the same levy rate as district residents: $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would cost the owner of a $300,000 home an additional $390 per year. The city plans to decrease its utility tax for water, sewer and stormwater drainage by 46 percent to offset part of the cost.

City officials have said that revenue freed up by the annexation would help them to fill previously cut positions in the Battle Ground Police Department and perform needed maintenance and preservation projects for streets, sidewalks and parks.

“That is nice, yeah. We weren’t sure what that was really going to look like (without annexation),” Erdman said. “This will be a great step forward.”

Fire district residents outside of the city will not see any immediate financial impacts as a result of Tuesday’s vote.

But the district was hoping to secure long-term funding as the area continues to grow and calls for service increase.

“Well, we’re grateful, obviously, for all the participation and the response from the community,” Fire District 3 Chief Scott Sorenson said. “We’ve had a lot of interest on this and more questions than any other elections we’ve had combined.”

As call volumes rise, the district must keep two fire crews in the city at night, Sorenson said. With annexation, the district also plans to keep Station 32 in Venersborg — currently operating 12 hours each day — staffed on a 24-hour basis.

Sorenson said outreach efforts by the city and the fire district, as well as interest from voters, made the difference.

“We tried to be as open and transparent as we could,” Sorenson said. “Moving forward, we’ll continue to share information, finalize this and make plans for the future.”

 


Source: https://www.columbian.com

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