May 31, 2012 in Washington Voices

Fire levy on August ballot

Funds make up half department’s budget
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The staff of the Spokane Valley Fire Department painted a grim picture for fire commissioners Tuesday as they reviewed what the department would look like if the replacement levy on the Aug. 7 ballot fails.

The three-year levy would collect a flat rate of $1.70 per $1,000 in assessed home value beginning in 2013, or $255 for a $150,000 home. The $16.4 million it raises accounts for 53 percent of the department’s budget.

The department has 10 stations, including stations in Liberty Lake and Otis Orchards. It has 180 employees, including 149 firefighters and paramedics working three shifts. If the levy were to fail only four stations would remain open – Sullivan, Liberty Lake, Station 6 at 6306 E. Sprague Ave. and Station 7 at 1121 S. Evergreen Road.

The number of employees would drop to 76. Every category would be cut, including chief officers, administrative assistants and maintenance. The number of fire investigators would drop from eight to two. The 66 firefighters and paramedics left would only include seven paramedics. These cuts would be implemented in 2013.

Fewer stations and firefighters means slower response times, which would in turn cause the department to lose its international accreditation. The agency would no longer be able to offer advance life support services, which accounted for 4,557 of the 11,242 calls the department responded to in 2011. Its insurance rating would drop from a three to perhaps a six, raising costs for businesses and homeowners.

“A five or a six is what you get out in the rural areas,” said Capt. Jack Neusse.

The replacement levy is for the same amount residents are currently paying, Neusse said. “There is no increase in taxes,” he said. “You’re paying the same as you’re paying today.”

Even though the amount won’t change there is concern that the levy might not pass given that other fire districts and school districts have had recent problems passing levies. The department is already making plans to have the levy on the November ballot in case it fails in August.

The dire consequences presented this week are not what might happen if the levy fails – it’s what will happen said Fire Chief Mike Thompson. There is no way to recover from a budget loss of $16.4 million, he said.

“It’s exactly what would happen if the levy fails,” he said.

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