Spokane Valley Fire Department’s board of commissioners is debating whether to ask voters for a 3-cent or 6-cent increase in the department’s special maintenance and operations levy that is due to go before voters for renewal in 2015.
The department’s special levy is currently $1.69 per $1,000 in assessed home value, which is in addition to the basic levy of $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value. A 6-cent increase would boost the combined levy total to $3.25 per $1,000.
During a special meeting Wednesday, the commissioners in attendance seemed to be more in favor of a 6-cent increase on a four-year levy. A final vote on the levy rate is scheduled during another special meeting set for 4 p.m. Monday at the Administration Building, 2120 N. Wilbur Road.
Several of the commissioners said they worried that a 3-cent increase was only enough to maintain the status quo without considering new things like the automatic response units currently being tested by the Spokane Fire Department. The units are SUVs packed with medical equipment and staffed with one emergency medical technician who responds to medical calls.
“I don’t want to see us get behind,” said Commissioner Bill Anderson.
Commissioner Mike Pearson said the department likely couldn’t launch any automatic response units if it went with the lower levy amount. “There’s no buffer there,” he said.
A 3-cent increase may be the absolute minimum needed right now but it’s not enough, said board chairman Kolby Hanson. “We’re just painting ourselves in a corner for a surprise later and no one likes surprises,” he said. “No one wants to ask more from the citizens than needed. I don’t think this is asking for the moon.”
The department plans to use some of the levy money to hire 12 new employees over four years. Currently the department is spending more than $1 million a year on overtime, out of a 2014 annual budget of $28.2 million. Adding firefighters will help bring those costs down, said Chief Bryan Collins. “It gives us a lot more operational flexibility,” he said.
The department plans to build a new fire station in Liberty Lake in 2017, which is during the next levy cycle. The department has long planned to move to a location south of Interstate 90 to allow the department to respond more quickly to calls to the south and east of Liberty Lake. The department has had a pay-as-you-go policy for capital projects and has no debt.
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