The Smith Valley Fire Department is seeking a mill levy increase to expand its workforce.
Fire Chief Amy Beick said the department wants to be able to continue the service it has provided and build its staff in response to the population growth in the area.
“We want to provide the high quality service we always have and it’s important for people to understand the decrease in volunteers over the years,” Beick said. “We are manned 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.” The department is seeking a 49.26 mill increase, which would generate 200,000, the annual cost would be 100,000 property, it would be $66.48.
Beick said that annual increase would allow the department to increase its force from three people to six.
Currently, the department includes Beick, one firefighter/advanced EMT and one firefighter/EMT.
She said there are 11 volunteer firefighters and five on-call volunteers who work shifts to make sure there is enough coverage.
The levy would allow the force to expand to six full-time members, who Beick said would be cross-trained as firefighter/paramedics or firefighter/EMTs.
“As the community has grown, our calls have increased, but our volunteers have not,” Beick said.
Beick said Smith Valley’s last bond request was about 10 years ago, and its approval allowed the department to build its new fire hall.
“We are certainly grateful to our community for that, but we need the funding to provide advanced life support transport,” Beick said.
Beick explained that the need arose for more staff when a private ambulance company that covered Smith Valley and Kila chose to end its contract with the fire department two years ago.
Beick said the department’s board elected to provide advanced life support transport and bought one ambulance.
She said the department coverage area is 69 square miles and they also have mutual aid agreements with departments in Kalispell, West Valley, South Kalispell and Marion. Beick also said they don’t get any tax dollars for coverage outside their main area. Some firefighters also respond to wildfires in and out of the state.
Beick said the hope is that the levy will help the department keep its firefighters and provide them a livable wage.
“We want to retain our good employees. A revolving door of people isn’t good. We want to have people that know the area,” Beick said. “Having that knowledge and being able to respond quickly can make a difference in saving a structure.”
Beick said department members are out canvassing property owners and talking with as many as they can before the mail-in ballots are due back Sept. 12.
“We want people to have as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision,” she said.
The ballots are scheduled to be mailed Wednesday, August 22.
For more information, call Beick at 752-3548.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or email@example.com.