North Whatcom Fire & Rescue to discuss budget

Published on Wed, Dec 2, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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The board of commissioners for North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) will review its proposed 2010 budget at a public hearing set for Thursday, December 3.

The total of $5,541,269 in expenditures represents a four percent increase over 2009. Though the department’s expected income won’t be known until final assessment figures are furnished by the county assessor, expected sometime in the last 10 days of the year, the increased levy is about two cents per $1,000 of evaluation, or about six dollars on a $300,000 house. Presently the department’s levy is $1.31 per thousand dollars of evaluation.

Commissioners will also consider raising their funding levy one percent as allowed by state law, but to do that will require a bit of maneuvering. They’re allowed to raise the funding levy by the lower of either a one percent raise or by a factor based on a consumer price index the state calls the implicit price inflator.

Currently, the price inflator is actually a price deflator since it went down last year, so the department will only be allowed to raise its levy rate by demonstrating substantial need to do so.

NWFR chief Tom Fields said that the fire department’s need for new equipment and increased personnel costs constitute such a need and mandate a rise in the levy. Health care costs alone rose 22 percent over last year, he said. Providing adequate coverage for the 147-square mile fire protection district that includes Blaine, Birch Bay and rural Lynden meant purchasing four new engines at $2.1 million. These will replace aging equipment, Fields said, and will help to lower insurance costs because older equipment does not merit the same kind of lowered insurance ratings.

“Our ladder truck is so old it doesn’t qualify our district for rate reductions. It needs replacing in any case,” Fields said. Instead of going to voters with a bond for the new engines, the commissioners chose to finance them for 10 years at 3.17 percent with the state of Washington’s local option capital asset lending program. The loan payments come out of the department’s operating budget.

The new ladder truck and one new engine, manufactured by Crimson in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are expected to arrive in December, with the third and fourth engines due in the spring.

The hearing will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 3 at Station 71, 307 19th Street, Lynden. For more information, visit their website at www.nwfrs.net.