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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County Fire District 3 commissioner candidates take different positions on tax increase and serving Medical Lake

UPDATED: Wed., July 31, 2019

Sharon Colby and Michael Heiydt are running in the Aug. 6, 2019 primary for a position on the Spokane County Fire District 3 Commission. (Courtesy)
Sharon Colby and Michael Heiydt are running in the Aug. 6, 2019 primary for a position on the Spokane County Fire District 3 Commission. (Courtesy)

A longtime Spokane County Fire District 3 commissioner says she brings valuable experience at a time of big change while her opponent hopes to bring a new perspective.

The race is on the Aug. 6 primary ballot because a third candidate, Cal Lindsay, who serves as a firefighter in the Army Reserves, filed to run. But after he filed he was given notice that he will be deployed to Afganistan and he decided to withdraw. However, it was too late to remove him from the ballot and he remains a choice in the election.

Fire District 3 encompasses the southwest third of Spokane County.

The candidates, incumbent Sharon Colby and former volunteer firefighter Michael Heiydt, have taken different positions on two Fire District 3 propositions facing voters on the primary ballot.

Colby supports Proposition 1, which would absorb Medical Lake into the district if Medical Lake voters also agree to join. Heiydt is undecided on the proposal.

Heiydt opposses Proposition 2, which would increase property taxes from $1.41 to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, while Colby supports it.

Colby is the longest serving commissioner in District 3 and has been in office since 1990.

After Colby’s youngest son started school in 1980, she wanted find something to do with her newfound free time.

“I decided to do something of interest but I didn’t want it to be frivolous,” Colby said.

So she got together with eight women in her neighborhood, and they became volunteer firefighters.

She volunteered for two years and then began writing the fire district newsletter and helping on various committees.

Her community involvement didn’t stop there, as she started publishing a small newspaper so people in her rural community could stay up to date on the new school being built in the area and fire district changes, Colby said.

The paper was called the Spangle Banner, she said.

Colby’s involvement with firefighting has stretched across the state in recent decades. She served on committees at the state, county and local levels to help shape first-responder policy.

The main reason Colby decided to run again is the arrival of Amazon in the district, something she expects will create exponential growth in the area, Colby said.

“The big thing that’s different about this race and the reason I chose to run again at my age is that I have a lot of history with the district. I have a lot of experience with dealing with problems,” Colby said.

Challenger Heiydt was born in Spokane and has spent most of his life in Cheney. His roots in the community and experience as a volunteer firefighter are part of why he wants to give back, he said.

“I feel like everybody should be involved in their community, and this is a type of community service for me, helping guide the fire service,” Heiydt said.

With major changes coming to the district, Heiydt said he wants to help shape the fire district’s response.

Heiydt would like District 3 to be more transparent, he said. He has previously asked for the annual budget to be put online and “they gave me the bureaucratic runaround,” he said.

However, the district does talk to its residents frequently and tries to keep them informed, Heiydt says.

There are things that can be improved, but they are all nuanced rather than serious criticisms, Heiydt said.

“They’ve always done a very professional job, and I don’t want to degrade in any way, shape, or form their performance,” he said.

“I would do a good job as commissioner and give both my ideas and ideas that I didn’t agree with the same even-handed evaluation and determine what the best way to go forward was,” Heiydt said.

There are two Fire District 3 propositions on the August ballot.

Proposition 1 would merge the city of Medical Lake with Fire District 3 creating an 11th station. Voters in both Medical Lake and District 3 would have to approve the measure by a simple majority for it to pass.

The measure would not increase taxes in District 3.

“I’m torn on the annexation of Medical Lake,” Heiydt said. “I believe that it would be a very good thing for the city of Medical Lake.”

District 3 has been “picking up a lot of the slack” left by struggles in Medical Lake, however, the changes to District 3 are not negative or positive, Heiydt, said.

But Colby is supportive of the change.

“I think that it’s a great thing. I believe in community helping community,” Colby said.

If the measure passes, it would affect the commissioners, she said.

“I have to be more aware, and I have to be more conscious about where the dollars go (if the district expands),” Colby said.

Proposition 2 is a levy increase from $1.41 to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Historically, the fire district has asked to increase it to $1.50 every time the levy has eroded below $1.40, according to educational documents put out by the fire district.

Colby is supportive of the levy lid lift, calling it “routine.”

But Heiydt said he is “wholeheartedly against it.”

“I’m against the levy lid lift at this time, and it’s not because I don’t foresee in the future that we will need to raise taxes,” Heiydt said. “The budget has grown each year for the last several years.”

If Heiydt were to become commissioner, his goal would be to “continue the maintaining of a balanced budget in the district,” he said.

If proposition 1 passes, residents of Medical Lake would pay the $1.50 levy to Fire District 3.

The district, established in 1945, serves 565 square miles and approximately 25,000 residents. There are 10 stations staffed by 139 firefighters, most who volunteer and a few who are full-time.

The district is governed by a board of three commissioners who serve six-year terms. The board meets monthly and manages personnel and budgeting for the district.

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