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School officials ask city to not place fire bond levy on February 2012 ballot

Several questions surrounding a proposed fire bond levy were last night addressed by the Sunnyside City Council.

At issue is the timing of the proposed bond levy, which was slated to be on the Feb. 14, 2012 special election ballot, along with a levy for the Sunnyside School District.

Also addressed by Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham was the term of the bond and the amount, as well as whether or not a ladder truck apparatus would be included in the funding being sought from local voters.

Dr. Rick Cole told the city council there may be an issue if the school district's levy and the fire bond levy are placed on the same ballot. He said voters may not approve both, especially with the current status of the economy.

"The school district can't wait to put its levy on the ballot," said Cole, stating it is imperative the school district's levy is considered by voters because of levy equalization dollars that are at stake, as well as school employee positions.

He asked the council if the city might consider waiting until another election cycle to ask for voters to approve a fire bond levy.

"The belief is the two issues would be competing against one another," said Cole.

The school district's levy is also important because it will replace another levy due to expire, he said.

Markham, addressing the issue, told the city council the fire department was proposing its fire bond levy for the February ballot because it was believed there might be a greater voter turnout.

He believes the fire department's options to place the issue on a ballot are limited because 2012 is a presidential election year with a primary in September and general election in November.

There is one other month during which the bond issue could be placed on a special election ballot, and that is during the month of April 2012.

Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer Byron Olson said the city could benefit from an April special election, however there is a concern as to whether or not enough voters will turn out.

He said he believes it is best to avoid placing the issue on the September ballot because of the primary elections for presidential candidates.

By placing the fire bond levy on the April ballot, Olson said the fire department might have the opportunity to better convince the voters of its benefits and the city's need for a new fire station.

He said another option, waiting until February 2013, may be a benefit because the voters could approve the bond levy with the knowledge the bond would overlap an older one by only a year, rather than two years.

Currently citizens in Sunnyside are paying 66 cents per $1,000 assessed property value on a past fire bond. The approval of a new bond would increase that to approximately $1.10 per $1,000 if the bond totals $6 million, as was being proposed. That is if the term of the bond was 20 years. If the term is 25 years, property owners would pay $1.14 per $1,000 assessed property value.

The amount paid after the older bond expires would decrease to 82 cents per $1,000 assessed property value for a new 20-year bond and 71 cents per $1,000 assessed property value on a 25-year bond.

Markham also told the council the fire department had considered asking voters to approve a $6 million bond, but has decreased the amount to $5.3 million.

The funds, if approved by local voters, would be used for fire station construction costs, the repayment of funds used to purchase the property and the acquisition of a used ladder truck.

Markham researched the cost of ladder trucks that can be purchased in used condition and provided examples of two trucks that would cost approximately $599,000.

He said the fire department would like to purchase a Pierce Dash 100' Quint, which will meet the city's needs and can be used for any structure fire.

"It would be first out," Markham told council, stating the older trucks would be utilized by volunteer staff as the second vehicles responding to a scene.

Currently, the city has a 14-year-old American La France and co-owns a 7-year-old Rosenbauer. Both pump 1,750 gallons of water per minute.

However, there is also a 1982 WS Darley in the fire department's fleet. The National Fire Protection Association recommends against using engines more than 25 years old for primary responses.

For a new ladder truck, Markham said maintenance and operation costs are estimated at $1,000 annually.

No decisions were made as a result of the discussions, which are expected to continue at later council meetings.

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