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News >  Local government

Spokane County fire districts will decide fate on property taxes on Tuesday

July 30, 2022 Updated Sat., July 30, 2022 at 3:47 p.m.

Spokane County Fire District 3 firefighters attack a small fire along the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 195 on July 22, 2017, north of Spangle. District 3 is one of four fire district in Spokane County asking voters to approve a tax on the Aug. 2 ballot.  (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County Fire District 3 firefighters attack a small fire along the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 195 on July 22, 2017, north of Spangle. District 3 is one of four fire district in Spokane County asking voters to approve a tax on the Aug. 2 ballot. (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
By Mathew Callaghan The Spokesman-Review

Voters in many parts of Spokane County will decide the fate of tax proposals in Tuesday’s election.

Here is an overview of the tax proposals on the ballot.

Spokane County Fire District 3

District 3 is asking voters to establish an emergency medical services levy that would cost 50 cents per $1,000 of property value next year and last six years . If the EMS proposal passes, for a property valued at $400,000, property owners would pay $200 in property tax for the levy.

“Those funds can be utilized for … essentially anything related to emergency medical services,” Fire District 3 Chief Cody Rohrbach said. “Our intent is that those funds would go primarily to additional firefighters.”

Fire District 3 covers 570 square miles in southwest Spokane County.

The proposed tax would generate nearly $2.4 million. The district’s main property tax levy, which will continue next year, is expected to generate $5.8 million next year. Unlike most Spokane County fire districts, District 3 does not currently collect an EMS tax.

Rohrbach said if the levy passes, there would be dramatic impacts on service levels within the department, in part, because the district would boost its paid firefighting staff.

“If the EMS levy is approved, it would lower our average response time for the department from over 14 minutes to eight minutes,” Rohrbach said.

Spokane County Fire District 4

District 4 is seeking to renew its EMS tax levy. If this tax levy renewal is approved, the tax would cost property owners 50 cents per $1,000 property value and it would generate an estimated $3.3 million next year, according to Jim Hawvermale at the Spokane County Assessor’s Office.

Fire District 4 covers about 330 square miles in northern Spokane county, the district’s Fire Chief Bill Neckels said.

“The EMS levy is geared toward supporting the EMS portion of our operations,” Neckels said. “So not only salary, as responders, but for EMS equipment.”

Neckels noted EMS response is close to 80% of the total call volume they receive.

Spokane County Fire District 13

District 13 is asking voters to renew its general fire levy rate back to $1.50 per $1,000. Last year, it was $1.03 per $1,000 of property value, according to Hawvermale. Fire District 13 covers 23 square miles, including Newman Lake.

But the district had second thoughts after placing the tax on the ballot, when realizing the proposed levy amount, coupled with major boosts in property values, could generate more money than the district needs. Officials say if the tax passes they wouldn’t tax the full amount.

District 13 Fire Chief Stan Cooke has second thoughts about asking for more money from residents.

“When I asked for $1.50, that was based on halting valuation or property valuation of about 12% increase, which is what happened last year for 2022. Well, I had no idea that it was going to bounce all the way between 30 and 40%. And by the time I found that out, and then tried to say, ‘Hey, let’s stop that ballot,’ it already got out.” Cooke said.

Despite this, Cooke sa id he doesn’t need the entire $1.50, if the proposal is passed. Cooke gave an example of what he meant in a statement.

“For instance, if a $1.50 at 30% valuation increase gives me a million dollars, I don’t need a million dollars, I needed $270,000. So, I can drop what I asked for. Instead of $1.50, I can go down to $1.30 to get my 275. And so they (Fire District 13 residents) wouldn’t be charged $1.50,” Cooke said.

“So if you were to do a $400,000 house, and it was $1.50 per $1,000, you’re looking at a $600 a year assessment for the fire department levy,” Cooke said.

Cooke believes that if he drops the levy down to $1.30 per $1,000, he could save residents $180.

Spokane Valley Fire Department

The Spokane Valley Fire Department is seeking to renew their general fire tax levy. Last year, the rate was at $1.05 per $1,000. This proposal would jump the rate back up to $1.50 per $1,000.

The department covers 75 square miles, including most of the city of Spokane Valley.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department implemented a different form of tax levying years ago, called the special maintenance and operation tax. Last year, this tax was at $1.66 per $1,000 of property value, according to Hawvermale. If the general fire tax levy is renewed, the special maintenance and operation tax would be lowered to 66 cents per $1,000 of property value.

Spokane Valley Fire Chief Frank Soto Jr. is proposing for the renewal because he doesn’t believe the special maintenance and operation tax is sustainable.

“That levy (special maintenance and operation tax) requires us to go before the voters every four years to pass it and it requires a supermajority each time in order to pass with 60% plus one. So it’s very dangerous because if it doesn’t pass, then at the end of the year, all that money goes away,” Soto said.

With this proposal, Soto hopes to reallocate the majority of the money from the special maintenance and operation tax to the general fire tax which is much more sustainable. The general fire tax is more sustainable because it only requires a simple majority vote, Soto said.

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