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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Spokane Valley Fire Department asks voters to approve property tax levy boost to fund better emergency services, keep up with growing call load

Spokane Valley Firefighters responded to a fire at Spokane Seed, 6015 E. Alki just after midnight on Friday April 29, 2022.  (Courtesy of the Spokane Fire Department)
Spokane Valley Firefighters responded to a fire at Spokane Seed, 6015 E. Alki just after midnight on Friday April 29, 2022. (Courtesy of the Spokane Fire Department)

The Spokane Valley Fire Department will ask voters in August to raise its property tax levy from $1.04 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the $1.50 cap in 2023.

The department’s board of commissioners voted unanimously April 25 to place the six-year levy lid lift on the Aug. 2 primary election ballot, Fire Chief Frank Soto said.

If approved, Soto said a homeowner with a $400,000 assessed property valuation would pay an additional $15.14 per month, or $181.68 next year.

The levy for each of the five years after 2023 could increase 1% or the percentage allowed by the consumer price index, not to exceed 6%.

Soto said the levy increase would bring an additional $9.4 million to the fire department next year.

He said that extra boost in funding would allow the department to train more of its personnel to be paramedics and replace aging equipment and vehicles.

Soto said all of his firefighters provide basic life support, but he wants more to provide advanced life support.

“That is the highest level of emergency medical services, EMS, that we can provide and I want to do that,” he said. “Our citizens deserve that.”

The $9.4 million would also help the department keep up with inflation, including the price of diesel fuel which has doubled since a year ago, and the department’s dramatic rise in calls for service.

Soto said the department’s call volume has increased 44% the last seven years.

“I mean, we’re just absolutely running and gunning right now with call volume,” he said.

Soto said calls were up 21% last year compared with 2020. This year, responses are up 12.5% compared with this time last year.

About 61% of the department’s budget is funded by a special maintenance and operations levy and 37% is funded by a regular fire levy, Soto said. The remaining 2% comes from grants and other avenues.

Soto said he wants to “flip-flop” the highest two percentages so the department is more reliant on the regular fire levy. The levy lid lift would help accomplish that.

“We’ve become dangerously dependent on the M and O levy that is not permanent,” Soto said. “That should concern everyone and not just the fire department itself.”

The department’s last levy lid lift was in 2007 when it was at $1.23 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. If the levy passes in August, Soto said the maintenance and operations levy could be reduced in the future. If the levy fails, the department will ask for more money in the next maintenance and operations levy, he said.

At that point, the 61% reliance on the maintenance and operations levy would increase to about 70%.

“That’s that really dangerous part that we want to avoid,” Soto said. “We’re already kind of in the danger zone, but we have time to get out of it right now and that’s the goal.”

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