Voters set to decide the fate of local fire district

NEAR AUBURN, Wash. -- A local fire district is facing a dire situation, and the only people who can save it are the citizens who the firefighters are protecting.

Hundreds of people still need to turn in their ballots for a special election levy to better fund King County Fire District 44.

As of Tuesday evening, only a quarter of all registered voters had mailed in their ballots, and those hoping to keep the district afloat will have to act quickly.

The doors at the fire district's main office are locked. After several layoffs this year, there's not enough support staff it keep it open.

But if the special election levy fails, the district may have to lay off firefighters.

"That's my concern as fire chief is the increased response times if we have less firefighters on duty," said fire chief Greg Smith.

Three out of four calls every day are emergency-medical, where every second counts. But it's all in jeopardy unless voters approve a property tax levy.

So far, they don't even have enough ballots turned in to certify the election. There's still time, but since there's not even a post office in this district, voters will have to drive to Maple Valley to deposit ballots in an election drop box.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Fire Commission chairman said he stood on the road yesterday waiving a sign to remind people about the special election.

"I was really surprised. There were a lot of people honking as I was waving the sign and I got a lot of thumbs up," said chairman Jim Farrell.

But thumbs up won't be counted as a ballot, and 700 more voters need to turn in their ballots for the election to count.

"It could cause trouble for us and our citizens," Smith said.

Many in the community have said that if there's one area that should be well funded, it's emergency services.

"I don't know it just seems like part of the government that seems important to have good fire protection," a homeowner named Chuck said.

The district is asking for a maximum of $650,000 a year for the next four years. The drop boxes will remain open until Tuesday at 8 p.m., and the first results will be posted at about 8:15 p.m.