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Fire officials ask for lid lift

Leaders at the Spokane Valley Fire Department decided Monday to ask voters for an increase in its property tax rate, casting the move as an alternative to interest-bearing bonds to finance new fire stations.

Voter approval of the ballot item known as a levy lid lift would allow the fire district to collect more money from its existing property tax levy than the nominal increase allowed each year by state tax law.

“There’s no interest paid on that versus a bond,” said Joe Dawson, chairman of the deparment’s board of commissioners.

In the last 10 years, the highest levy rate has been about $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed value. It’s fallen to $1.23 because of increases in property values compared to the total amount the district collects each year.

If the lid lift is approved during the November general election, the rate would increase to $1.50 for 2008, and the commissioners would have the option of increasing the department’s revenues from the levy by up to 6 percent each year for the next six years.

“We’ve been looking at, and putting together, a long-term capital facilities plan,” said Chief Mike Thompson.

The department plans to remodel and build more stations to accommodate the district’s growing population and a mounting number of calls for service. As Thompson and others plan for several new stations and a larger administration building, he predicts the department will need an additional $11 million for capital projects over the next six years.

Thompson told commissioners the department could raise the funds through a 20-year bond or by asking for a six-year lid lift created by the Legislature this year.

“We’re asking for less money in the long run” because there is no bond interest to pay, Dawson said after the unanimous vote.

In the past, many fire districts decided against lifting the lid on their levy collections because of the cost of placing the item on the ballot compared the extra revenue it would raise, said Assistant Chief Larry Rider.

With the new lid lift, though, the department expects to raise an additional $2 million per year for the next 6 years. The department is contemplating replacing stations 9, 10, 6, 3, 11 and its administration building, according to its proposed six-year capital facilities plan.

The last time Spokane Valley Fire asked voters for an increase in funding was a boost last winter to the special levy that comes up for a vote every three years and is expected to raise $37.7 million over that time. Its proceeds allowed the department to add nine firefighter positions and several new fire trucks this year.