November 19, 2011 in Washington Voices

Fire departments, districts regroup from failed levies

Newman Lake, Spokane County District 8 plan next moves
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Fire departments and districts in the Spokane Valley area were taking stock this week and trying to determine how to move forward after levy and bond requests on the November ballot failed.

Newman Lake Fire District 13 tried to pass a $2.2 million construction bond to build a new fire station. It received only 48 percent approval. The district’s commissioners held a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the results. “They talked about whether to run it again,” said Fire Chief Keith Yamane.

The commissioners asked Yamane to take the issue back to the Building Committee, which was heavily involved in selecting the design of the proposed new station, for a recommendation on what to do next, Yamane said. “I think they want to get an idea relatively quick,” he said. “They weren’t opposed to running it again.”

Spokane County Fire District 8, which stretches across a large area south of Spokane and Spokane Valley, tried to pass its first Maintenance and Operations levy to replace dropping property tax revenue. It failed with 51 percent approval. The measure needed 60 percent approval to pass.

“We had a different budget in case the M&O didn’t go through,” said District 8 Commissioner Greg Hesse. The commissioners approved that budget Tuesday night. The budget includes cuts to training and seminars. “We’ve got some equipment we had scheduled to be replaced,” he said. “We feel we can get by another year or so.”

The district will not be purchasing a new brush truck or a new fire engine as planned. An empty deputy chief position will remain unfilled. Several full-time paid firefighter positions that were approved but not yet filled will remain vacant. “It’s not that we’re getting rid of anybody, we’re just not filling positions that were approved,” he said.

Hesse said the department cannot afford to put off equipment needs or maintain other cuts forever. “It has kind of put a strain on our training,” he said. “You’ve got to cut something to survive.”

The commissioners plan to hold a special meeting in the next month or two to discuss plans for 2013, when the cuts will likely have to be much deeper, Hesse said. There aren’t any plans to re-run the levy right away, he said, but something will have to be done. “We’re going to have to do something in the future,” he said. “We can’t continue to take the cuts that we’ve been taking. Each year is going to get tougher.”

The loss of a fire levy was perhaps more painful in Rockford. The town’s replacement fire levy got a 56.7 percent approval vote, just a few points shy of the 60 percent required. “We’ll probably try again,” said Rockford Mayor Micki Harnois. The levy would have paid for the expense of running the town’s all-volunteer department, including training and maintenance of the fire station.

“Right now there’s part of the roof that needs to be fixed,” she said. “It’s just to keep the operations going. It’s not for something brand new.”

The town will likely wait until next fall before trying to pass the levy again, Harnois said. “There’s enough, I think, to get us through,” she said. “If it skips another year, that’s going to be a problem.”

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