Kuna voters will be asked to approve two levies on May 21.

The Kuna Library District and the Kuna Rural Fire District each has levy measures on the May 21 ballot seeking voter-approved funds to expand their levels of service to the growing community.

Kuna’s population is estimated to increase by 16,000 people by 2028, according to an impact fees report prepared by Galena Consulting, and in that time, 5,000 new residences and 850,000 square feet of nonresidential development are expected. Kuna’s population is currently estimated at 19,200.

“We hope the people of Kuna see the need for both (levies),” said Tam Svedin, one of the Kuna Library’s co-directors.

“Because we don’t want to compete,” Jana Cutforth, the library’s other co-director, said.

Fire and library district officials want to remind voters that they will be taxed, if they qualify, after homeowner’s exemption is applied to their home’s assessed value. For example, if the voter has a $250,000 house and qualifies for the typical $100,000 homeowner exemption, they will be taxed on $150,000 of the $250,000 value. So the tax paid is on the “taxable value” of the home, not the property’s assessed value.

Kuna Rural Fire District is asking voters to approve a permanent annual levy override of $1.1 million which, if approved, means the fire district would be authorized to collect that and its current approximate $1.9 million in property taxes. In total, the fire district would be able to collect about $3.1 million in property taxes starting January 2020, if the levy override measure is approved.

This would continue annually until a new levy override is proposed. The additional money would be used to hire more full-time personnel and replace expiring equipment.

The tax rate is estimated to increase by $60, making the levy rate an estimated $182 per $100,000 of taxable property value. The fire district initially tried to get this levy override passed in November.

The current rate is $122 per $100,000 of taxable value.

Fire district administrators said that, under the current levy restrictions, the Kuna Rural Fire District is unable to continue improving services and increase staffing levels that are adequate to keep pace with the current growth within the district.

Typically, three people are on 48-hour shifts, according to Kuna fire chief Perry Palmer, whereas nearby districts have five. Five people means three can staff an engine and two can be on an ambulance, and both can go on a call. With only three people, Kuna fire district must always pick one, and sometimes they have to wait 15-20 minutes for nearby aid.

Just last week, Palmer said, Kuna fire received three calls where both an ambulance and fire truck were needed, and Kuna fire could only send one. Those kind of calls, for example, are rollover crashes and vehicles crashing into buildings.

“When we’re at three we’re very limited in what we can do until we get additional people,” Palmer said. “The procedures that we need to go through get delayed so the timeliness of delivering the care can be compromised. It creates a delay from start to finish, whether it’s doing procedures, being able to get the patient packaged and loaded in the ambulance for transport, that all gets delayed when we work short-handed.”

Palmer also wants to emphasize that by increasing personnel, the fire district will become more efficient and possibly be able to not only increase call response times but also to be able to respond to more calls. The faster the staff work a call, the faster they are able to be available for another call.

And in the case of some fire calls, those extra people are necessary for the firefighters’ own safety. With just three people, firefighters are not supposed to go inside the burning structure unless they know someone is trapped inside, because if they go in before aid arrives, they could get stuck in the burning structure as well, such as if they encounter obstructions in their path or if they need to rescue an abnormally large person.

“It doesn’t sound like two people would gain you that much but it makes a huge difference if you have somebody that is potentially trapped,” Palmer said. “ … We can’t get into a position of sending two people into a burning building without having two people outside unless we have a known rescue, which just makes that already very dangerous thing to do even more dangerous by not having any backup, but we do it. That’s what we’re here for that’s our job.”

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Didn’t the fire district just start receiving impact fees, which help pay for growth?

Last year the fire district was approved to collect impact fees on new residential and nonresidential (such as commercial) development. Impact fees are a one-time fee charged to a developer at the time of development, and fees go toward expanding services necessitated by the growth.

However, impact fee money has stipulations, such as that it cannot go toward specific line items that are not guaranteed to last at least eight years, according to a report by Galena Consulting, which did an impact fee study for the fire district. This means that impact fee funds go to capital improvements, such as buildings, which will most likely last that minimum amount of time. With personnel, there’s no guarantee, for example, they will keep the job with the fire district for over eight years, so they are not impact fee eligible.

“We would find ourselves in a position where we’re collecting impact fees ... to build that next station, but under the current levy rate we’re not going to be able to get to the point of being able to have the funds to support the people (needed at that station),” Palmer said.

He added it currently takes about 450 new homes to fund one full-time position. Essentially, Palmer said, 1,350 homes would need to be built to be able to add one person per shift. By having the levy rate increased only about 850 new homes would need to be built to fund those additional personnel.

“So we’re able to achieve the needed revenue to add additional people at a much faster pace,” Palmer said.

The fire district’s goal, if the levy is approved, is to hire six new people, two for each shift, and always, ideally, to have five people on a shift. Funds would also go toward replacing vehicles and equipment.

“At least our staffing would be such that we would always be able to staff a fire engine and an ambulance, not either/or,” Palmer said. “And then it puts us in a better position for funding future positions for when we open the next station.”

Details about the second station are still in the works.

Why are volunteers not picking up the need of more people on staff?

Palmer answered by saying it is a “multi-layered issue,” one layer being that volunteers may not be able to leave their day-job to come in or they may have family-related obligations such as getting their children to school.

“When you look at all the balls that they juggle this one tends to be the one that’s easy to drop,” Palmer said. “… at night ... when the calls come in (they ask themselves), ‘If I go on this call will I have still have enough time to get to work on time?’ … They start weighing that … They figure, ‘If I get tied up in (the call), my kids don’t get to school or I am going to miss work.”

Palmer praised Kuna’s volunteers though, saying if they are able to come in, they usually do. He also added that he does not want to discourage anyone from pursuing being a volunteer firefighter.

Volunteers are typically called in to help on structure or grass fires, Palmer said, or to staff the station when the on-duty firefighters expect to be on a call for an extended period of time.

More information coming ...

Kuna Rural Fire District is planning to host two open houses prior to election day. More information is planned for future articles. More information about the levy override is currently available on the Kuna Rural Fire District’s website: www.kunafire.com.

Alx Stevens is the reporter for Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 208-922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.

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