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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Voters say yes to fire district tax increases throughout Spokane County

Firefighters from Spokane County Fire District 3 watch over the smoldering ruins of a rural home along U.S. 195, near Paradise Road, several miles south of Spokane, on Dec. 21. Per initial election results Tuesday night, 77% of voters agreed to a levy lid lift for Fire District 3.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County voters overwhelmingly approved three Fire Protection District levy increases Tuesday.

In Fire District 3, which covers a huge, southwest quadrant of Spokane County, 77% of voters agreed to a levy lid lift, per initial election results Tuesday night.

Voters who live in Fire District 4, which spans most of the northern quarter of Spokane County, passed their district’s levy lid lift request with 67% of the vote.

In Fire District 8, which covers the areas south of Spokane, Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake, 68% of voters approved of a tax increase.

More than 50% of voters had to approve the levies in order for them to pass.

Fire protection districts – effectively fire departments – use levies to fund large portions of their budgets. For fire protection districts, those levies are property taxes.

The three fire districts have regular levies of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means if someone has a home worth $100,000, they have to pay $150 per year to help fund their fire department.

That $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value isn’t always the actual number, though.

Property values trend consistently upward – or rocket upward. For instance, in the past year, the median Spokane County house has gone up in value by about 30%.

But that doesn’t mean fire district budgets increase by 30% in a year. Districts can only increase their budgets 1% annually.

Because fire districts are capped at the 1% annual budget increase, levy rates have to go down as property values go up. For instance, Fire District 8’s levy has fallen to $1.14 per $1,000 of property value.

The three fire districts asked voters Tuesday to approve a levy lid lift. They were asking for voter approval to raise their levy back up to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The fire districts asked for different types of levy lid lifts.

Fire districts 3 and 4 asked voters for a one-year lid lift. That means the levy rate will climb to $1.50 per $1,000 of value in 2022, then likely begin falling in 2023.

Funds raised by the levy increase will help the districts maintain and improve their services, replace equipment and increase safety for its firefighters.

Fire District 8 asked for a multiyear levy lid lift.

Multiyear lid lifts are complicated, but in this instance it will allow the fire district to bring its levy back up to $1.50 per $1,000 in property value and increase its budget by more than 1% each year until 2026.

In a video explaining the levy increase request, Fire District 8 Chief Lonnie Rash said that the tax funds will help his department deal with higher call volumes. He noted that his department’s calls have increased 31% in the past six years.

The levy money will also allow the department to hire new firefighters and paramedics, as well as repair equipment and buy four new firetrucks.