Local news

District 4 fire levy falls

THURSDAY, AUG. 20, 2009

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 northern district Tuesday, the district chief said Wednesday.

The levy was trailing in Wednesday evening’s count, with 43 percent approval. A simple 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. Wednesday results had 3,247 yes votes to 4,324 against.

Fire Chief Ed Lewis said the proposal would have allowed the district to maintain its 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, saving money on bond issuing costs and interest. “We are all concerned about the cost of government,” Lewis said.

The idea behind the levy was to stop relying on bond issues to pay for new equipment and facilities. Instead, the district hoped to use the levy to increase cash flow, allowing it to adopt a pay-as-you-go method for purchases, such as a replacement fire station 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 levy, Lewis said.

Language in the ballot title included a request to increase the levy rate by 4 percent each year through 2015. The goal was to maintain the 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 cents this year as a result of higher assessed values in 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 a levy request or a bond issue, Lewis said. Any future ballot requests will likely be put off until next year, he said.

Currently, the district funds its equipment reserve at $500,000 a year but may not be able to maintain that level for new equipment in coming years without a levy rate increase, he said.

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