Rep. Peter Abbarno (R-Centralia) recently toured fire district facilities in Packwood and Morton and discussed the inadequate funding for fire prevention in rural communities. Rep. Abbarno introduced House Bill 1929 that would create a statewide grant program to award funding to local governments in rural counties to plan, acquire, construct, repair, replace, rehabilitate, or improve a facility providing fire protection services. Although some funding from Rep. Abbarno’s program was included in Capital Budget, HB 1929 did not move past a hearing in the House Capital Budget Committee.
“As our local communities grow in population, it also puts more of a strain on local services, including our fire departments. Fire departments across the state are still working out of very old, outdated stations. Other fire stations are feeling the pressure from economic development and growth. It is often difficult for rural communities to raise the necessary funds to improve fire infrastructure and keep pace with growth,” said Abbarno, who serves as assistant ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee. “This legislation would improve fire safety and absorb some of the fire safety costs to relieve the economic burden on working families and small businesses.”
The 2022 Capital Budget included some funding for rural fire districts via Abbarno’s program, including $2 million for Fire District 5 in Napavine. However, Abbarno explains that the needs are substantial and local tax bases are unable to pass and keep up with the needs.
“Last summer, I toured several local facilities, including the Lewis County Fire District Number 5 facilities in Napavine. They tried to get community support with a bond for upgrades, but the local economy is such that many residents cannot afford an increase in their property taxes to pay for those upgrades. In communities like this, fire insurance rates often go up because the risk is higher,” noted Abbarno.
Abbarno recently toured Lewis County Fire District 10 in Packwood and Lewis County Fire District 4 in Morton. Both fire districts are located in rural Lewis County surrounded by working, as well as protected forests. The regions have seen commercial and residential growth.
“Washington state must get serious about protecting our forests, our economy, and our citizens from forest fires, natural disasters, and localized structure fires. We need to invest in our first responders and fire fighters who are the first line of defense and protection in rural communities. Unfortunately, when property poor and low tax base communities are unable to fund first responders, their communities become less safe,” added Abbarno. “I intend to re-file HB 1929 and continue advocating for our fire fighters, first responders, and the communities that need them most!”
Learn more how you can support Representative Peter Abbarno by visiting www.ElectPeterAbbarno.com