Spokane County Fire District 8 commissioners debated long and hard before unanimously voting earlier this month to put their first maintenance and operations levy on the November ballot.
If voters approve the levy it would collect $400,000 per year for two years, costing homeowners an estimated 17 cents per $1,000 in assessed home value, said Fire Chief Bill Walkup. “What we’re trying to do is replace some of the money we’ve lost through declining property values,” he said. “We aren’t trying to get everything we’ve lost.”
Fire District 8 covers 110 square miles of Spokane County south of Spokane and Spokane Valley. The district has had normal property tax levies before, but never one for maintenance and operations. It operates with a mix of paid and volunteer staff.
In the last few years property tax revenue has dropped from $5.2 million a year to $4.6 million. The district has already cut at least 10 percent from the budget of each division and has put off purchases of new hose and turnout gear, Walkup said. The turnout gear is usually replaced every seven to 10 years. “We’ve been sending them out for repair,” he said. “We’ve taken every place in the budget that we can and reduced it.”
But the district cannot defer equipment replacement expenses forever, he said. “You can’t continue down that path,” Walkup said. “We know we’re going to have to do that.”
If the levy is passed it will simply maintain the district’s current level of service, Walkup said. “We don’t plan to add any new programs,” he said. “We don’t plan to add any new staff.” The money raised by the levy would also allow the district to maintain its reserves at the minimum level required to keep a higher bond rating.
Walkup is optimistic that residents will approve the levy even though the economy is tight and the ballot will include levy and bond requests from other governmental agencies. “Our community has shown excellent support for the district since I’ve been here,” he said. “I think they understand we’re good stewards of their money.”
Still, Walkup and his staff will be preparing for the worst. “We will have Plan B,” he said. “We’ll have two different budgets to present to the board (of commissioners).”
Any budget minus the $400,000 from the levy would have to include cuts in services, he said. “We would have to change how we do business,” he said. “I don’t know what that looks like yet.”