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Valley Fire Levy Coasts To Passage

The Spokane Valley Fire District’s maintenance and operations levy, rejected by voters in the primary election, passed Tuesday by a comfortable margin.

The $6.325 million levy got 67.6 percent approval from Valley voters.

The roughly 3,000 absentee ballots remaining to be tallied will not be enough to defeat the levy, which needed 60 percent of the votes to pass.

“I think we might have learned a lesson that we have to better explain to the public what the levy’s about,” Valley Fire Chief Pat Humphries said.

The levy money represents 54.8 percent of Valley Fire’s 1998 budget, which is projected to total $11.55 million.

The district expects to receive nearly 7,800 calls for help in 1998. Service calls have risen about 11 percent a year in recent years, fire officials said.

In passing the levy, Valley residents avoided slower response times. Valley Fire avoided closing any of its seven stations and laying off more than half of its 126 firefighters.

The levy fell 113 votes short of the 60 percent it needed to pass in the primary, leaving fire officials stunned. Previous levys had passed with ease. The 1997 levy, which residents voted on in February, won 78 percent approval.

Fire officials cited a lack of publicity and confusion among voters as the reasons for the 1998 levy’s failure in the primary. The district also felt the weight of closer voter scrutiny in both the primary and general elections, Humphries said.

“I think (voters) were sending a message,” he said.

A quickly organized campaign by Citizens for Fire Protections changed the minds of voters who headed to the polls in the general election, Humphries said. The effort featured a lot of face-to-face contact with residents.

One of the major goals of the campaign was to inform voters that the levy was a continuation of current services and not a request for more money.

Valley Fire officials have worked hard to make sure the levy rate - $1.49 per $1,000 of assessed value - has not risen in several years, Humphries said.

, DataTimes