Fire departments and fire districts in the area surrounding Spokane Valley largely came away from the polls with disappointing results this week as several levy and bond requests failed. The exception was the town of Spangle, population 280 or so, which passed a fire levy and a police levy.
Spokane County Fire District 13 in Newman Lake asked for a $2.2 million construction bond to build a new station to replace one that is old, too small and doesn’t meet current building codes. As of Friday morning it had received just 47.95 percent yes votes. The measure requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
Fire Chief Keith Yamane said the commissioners will discuss what to do next during their meeting on Monday. The district held several public meetings to discuss the bond request and residents who attended were generally supportive of a new station. “I was surprised,” Yamane said of the results. “I heard from maybe two people personally who said they would vote against it.”
For now the paid staff and volunteers will continue to use the old station. “We have to listen to what the people are saying,” he said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t support the fire district, it was just that they couldn’t afford it.”
Spokane County Fire District 8, south of Spokane Valley and Spokane, tried to pass a maintenance and operations levy for the first time, saying it needed the money to replace property tax income that vanished as property values dropped. As of Friday morning the levy was ahead by 156 votes with 51.01 percent approval, far short of the required 60 percent. “We’re disappointed,” said District 8 Commissioner Gregg Hesse.
In recent years the district has cut department budgets and deferred equipment purchases to make ends meet. Several officers haven’t taken pay raises for years, Hesse said. The district was only looking for enough money to maintain current services, he said. “We’re pretty much cut to the bone.”
Commissioners and staff did prepare for this possibility by preparing a budget that doesn’t include the levy money. That budget will be discussed at the district’s meeting on Tuesday.
The district provides advanced life support services, but that may have to go on the chopping block, Hesse said. “It’s one of our bigger expenses,” he said. “I’m not a proponent of cutting that. We’re just going to have to look at everything.”
Hesse said he is also worried about possible layoffs in 2013 if property tax revenue continues to drop. “That’s certainly something we don’t want to do,” he said. “It depends on what the economy does. We’re going to do everything we can to avoid doing that.”
Rockford, south of Spokane Valley, asked for a fire replacement levy that would have collected 51 cents per $1,000 in assessed home value. The vote was extremely close, with 87 voting in favor and 65 against, a 57.04 percent approval rate with 60 percent required.
The lone success story so far is Spangle, providing that late-arriving votes don’t change the percentages. Through Friday morning it received a 75.49 percent yes vote (77 yes, 25 no) for a fire levy that will raise $23,000 a year, and a 65.63 percent approval (63 yes, 33 no) of a police services levy that will raise $16,000 per year.
Spangle Clerk Peggy Mangis said residents always approve the annual fire levy. This year is the first year the town sought a police levy to pay for its law enforcement contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. “I was hoping the police one would pass,” she said.