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

Airway Heights asks voters for bond to pay for new fire station

Airway Heights Fire Chief Mitch Metzger pointed to cramped dormitory conditions in the attic of the current fire station and limited bathrooms as some of the reasons why his small department can’t compete for trained transfer employees coming to the area.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Airway Heights leaders say their fire station, built in 1968, has outlived its usefulness.

Showers necessary for rinsing off chemicals after fires are inadequate at the current station, 1208 S. Lundstrom St., fire officials say. Air conditioning is lacking, forcing the station to rely on fans. Garage bays are too small for larger ladder trucks. Rooms are packed tight with boxes to the ceiling, the air is muggy and plumbing is a frequent issue.

“All those years, it has just outgrown its purpose, and another remodel is not feasible in the sense that you couldn’t change the fire station adequately to be able to house equipment and personnel,” said Stanley Schubert, Airway Heights clerk-treasurer.

The Airway Heights City Council placed an $8 million bond on the Aug. 1 primary ballot to buy a building and remodel it into a modern fire station.

The city already has a deal in place to buy the property, 1149 S. Garfield. An empty 39,600-square-foot commercial building built in 2019 sits on the 4-acre parcel. Spokane County values the land and building at $4.1 million.

At least 60% of voters must vote in favor of the bond for it to pass. If it doesn’t, the deal will be void and the fire department will stay at its current location. If the measure succeeds, the city estimates the bond will be repaid over the next 21 years.

The tax increase would be 37 cents per $1,000 in valuation of property. That’s about $111 per year on a $300,000 taxable property. If passed, the city plans to sell its current station to pay for the new project.

The city also plans to use a $1.3 million state grant, which the city can only spend if it passes the bond.

The project would reconstruct, remodel and expand the existing commercial building for more than the fire department. The city said it could eventually house the city’s police department and municipal court.

The Airway Heights Fire Department has 38 members. There are 30 volunteers, four full-time firefighters and four fire officers.

Airway Heights is growing fast. In 2010, it had 6,114 residents, according to the U.S. Census. It grew to 10,757 in 2020. This year, the state estimated the city’s population at 11,280.

Over the past decade, the station has seen an increase of 172% in calls.

“We run about 83% of our calls are medical calls, but overall, across the board, they have all increased,” said Fire Chief Mitch Metzger.

Metzger hopes the new station would be a place of education.

“It gives us the ability to hopefully recruit more volunteers so we can continue to provide service at a reasonable cost for citizens,” he said.

The newer building also would allow Metzger to start a live-in resident program for firefighters in training.

Airway Heights Proposition 2

Airway Heights city leaders also are asking voters on the Aug. 1 ballot if the city should be annexed into the Spokane County Library District. The vote requires a simple majority to pass.

If approved, taxpayers will pay an extra 34 cent per $1,000 in property value, or $102 per year for a $300,000 property starting in 2025 to pay for library service.

Currently, the city pays the library district for service out of taxes the city collects. If annexed, property owners would instead pay library taxes directly to the district. The previous funding set aside by the city would be used to fund four full-time firefighters.

These four firefighters’ salaries are currently funded from reserves, according to the city. These fund are limited, so taxing community members for library services would provide a cushion for the station.

The city of Airway Heights is the only city in Spokane County that makes regular payments to the city Library, Metzger said.

Airway Heights City Manager Albert Tripp, said he believes the annexation and bond are “equally important” because they need both to improve the department.

Samantha Fuller's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.