Fire levy in north Spokane County failing
District chief believes ballot wording may have confused voters
Voters in Spokane County Fire Protection District No. 4 may have been confused by a ballot title when they rejected a levy measure in the sprawling north county district on Tuesday, the district chief said today.
The levy was trailing in Tuesday evening’s count with 42 percent of voters saying yes to the measure. A 50 percent majority was needed to allow the district to increase the regular state property tax levy to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation – the state limit for regular levies. Tuesday night results had 2,883 yes votes to 3,946 against.Fire Chief Ed Lewis said the proposal would have allowed the district to maintain its current level of service to 330 square miles from nine stations, four of which have 24-hour staffing.
“What we were doing was attempting to replace the need for bond issues,” he said, explaining that the move would save money on bond issuing costs and interest payments. “We are all concerned about the cost of government,” Lewis said.
A key component of the plan was to continue funding new equipment and station facilities through an equipment reserve account. The chief said the district is seeking to convert to a pay-as-you-go method for new purchases, including a station replacement in Deer Park, rather than borrowing from credit markets through bond issues.
The district board has been considering replacing Station No. 41 in Deer Park and funding other purchases, including fire engines, through the regular levy, Lewis said.
He said language in the ballot title included a request to increase the levy rate by 4 percent for each of the subsequent years through 2015. The goal was to maintain the regular levy collection against potential inflation.
State law approved by voter initiative limits increases in regular property tax collections to 1 percent a year. District 4’s levy rate had fallen from $1.50 per $1,000 in 2001 to $.89 this year as a result of higher assessed values within the district.
Any taxing district can lift the so-called 1 percent levy lid through voter approval, which was at the heart of Tuesday’s ballot request.
It was the first time in more than 20 years that District 4 voters have rejected either a levy request or a bond issue proposal, and the district generally enjoys widespread public support, Lewis said. Any future ballot requests will likely be put off until next year, he said.
Currently, the district is funding its equipment reserve at $500,000 a year, but may not be able to maintain that level of funding for new equipment in coming years without a levy rate increase, he said.