Voters to decide future of CES equipment replacement

Proposition 4 on the Oct. 6 ballot will ask voters to allow the Kenai Peninsula Borough to issue $4.4 million in general obligation bonds. Central Emergency Services would use the money to replace a ladder truck and several other pieces of equipment that are either at or past the end of usefulness.

Before the last few expansions to the Central Peninsula Hospital, CPH, the 75-foot ladder truck operated by Central Emergency Services could reach to the top floors of the building. Now, it falls short of the top of that building and several others, including the dormitories at Kenai Peninsula College, said CES Chief Roy Browning.

“Our ladder truck is operationally obsolete, because when we bought it 20 years ago it was 75 feet long and at that time it was able to (account) for the City of Soldotna,” Browning said. “Since that growth has happened and we have more big box stores … we need a 100-foot ladder.”

Money from the bonds would be issued in two or more phases, according to the proposition, with the first phase set for 2016 for $2.1 million and the second phase for 2018 for $2.3 million. The bond money would not be used to expand the fleet, only to replace aging equipment including two engines, the ladder truck, a tanker and three ambulances, said CES Captain Terry Bookey.

To pay back the bonds, a yes vote on Prop 4 would also approve a .17 mill increase, or an extra annual $17 per $100,000 of assessed property value per taxpayer in the Central Emergency Service Area. That service area covers approximately 1,000 square miles, and the number of calls CES responds to continues to grow, Browning said.

“Our run volume goes up 7 percent a year,” he said. “That all adds up, and we’ve got to have the equipment to do it.”

CES is asking for the funding to compensate for a decrease in revenue that has prevented money from being put into savings, Browning said. Revenue collected through service area taxpayers took a hit starting in 2013 when voters agreed to increase the residential property tax exemption from $20,000 to $50,000. That has resulted in a loss of about $350,000 annually, Bookey said.

“Since 2013, it’s been a little over a million that the service area has lost,” he said.

Decreased help from the state has also put a dent in the CES revenue. Without replaced vehicles, Browning said the agency’s ability to respond to emergencies could be compromised.

“We used to get money from the state, and now they don’t have as much money for capital revenue sharing,” Browning said. “At this point, we don’t have reserve apparatuses so if one breaks down we don’t have anything else. We’ve got five fire stations that we need to keep running and there’s times when our ambulances were down.”

Usually, CES is able to replace equipment little by little each year with money it saves, but the decreased revenue from taxes has prevented any money from being put away.

“We’ve tried to cut expenses,” Bookey said. “We’ve cut three full-time jobs in the last three years.”

If the measure fails at the polls, CES personnel will keep working with what they’ve got. However, continuing to use outdated equipment could result in response vehicles being out of service more frequently, Bookey said. Browning said CES would continue seeking funding from the state as well.

The use of bonds to fund capital purchases is not a first for CES. The agency was issued $2.5 million in bonds in 2005 to fund the construction of a new fire station in Kasilof and upgrade an existing station in Funny River.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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