Fire district proposal calls for 8-cent hike in levy lid
By Jack Kintner
Blaine and Birch Bay voters will be asked to approve an 8-cent increase in the levy lid for North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) on this fall’s ballot. The request, which has the ballot title of Proposition 1, would raise the levy from $1.32 to $1.40 per year per $1,000 of evaluation, or a little over $20 per year for a $300,000 house.
The present figure is a result of a similar request that was made in 2007 when Whatcom County fire districts 3 (rural Lynden) and 13 (Blaine) merged. The request passed in district 13 but not in 3, so the county averaged the result and came up with the $1.32 per thousand assessment.
The increase in funding was used to buy two ambulances, hire 22 more full-time firefighters and a mechanic and begin the fire marshal program. “We cut our response time from 13 to about seven minutes,” NWFR chief Tom Fields said.
But revenues need to go up if his department is going to be able to continue to provide adequate service, he said. “Our costs are going up about three to three and a half percent per year,” Fields said, “which is faster than our revenue at the current rate. The cost of new apparatus is going up four to six percent, and fuel, as everyone knows, has really jumped.”
Fields pointed out that property taxes are the only source of revenue for fire districts. Equipment that must be used by firefighters is often mandated by state and federal rules.
“We can save money in insurance ratings by doing our job well,” Fields said, “but to do that we need a small increase in funds.” The cost of emergency medical service, for example, runs about $2.3 million per year but only about $175,000 is regained in fees.
“People have also told us they’d rather have a series of small increases rather than a big jump every 10 years or so,” Fields continued. “The bottom line is, if these annual requests fail then it will mean reductions, because we cannot continue to provide this level of service when costs are rising. We want to stay ahead of the game.”