Last year, Stan Cooke, fire chief of Newman Lake Fire and Rescue , took the unusual step of asking voters in his district not to vote for a tax increase on the ballot, and they listened.
More than 60% voted “no.”
Cooke made the decision after Spokane County home valuations shot up more than 30%, which would have made the levy cost more for voters since the levy is based on home values. It was too late to take the measure off the ballot, so he suggested a “no” vote instead.
The tax increase – called a levy lid lift – will now be back before voters on the August primary ballot, but the district is asking for $1.40 per $1,000 in assessed home value instead of the $1.50 per $1,000 it was asking for last year.
The district’s operating expenses have gone up sharply in the last two years, driven by inflation, said Administrative Assistant Robin Harbin. “This is right in line with the inflation rate,” she said of the increase.
Fire districts are allowed to assess up to $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed home value for basic expenses. But that levy drops in value over the years since the total dollar amount collected is only allowed to go up by 1% each year. Newman Lake’s levy was last at $1.50 per $1,000 in 2015 and was at $1.40 in 2017. Now, the rate is 79 cents per $1,000.
Raising the levy to the 2017 rate of $1.40 per $1,000 would cost the owner of a $300,000 home an extra $15 per month.
Newman Lake operates with few paid staff, but a levy lid lift will allow the district to hire another employee who will help train all new volunteers recruited by the district in recent months. It will also allow Cooke, who just retired from his part-time position, to be replaced by a full-time fire chief.
“We need to hire one more paid staff to handle the training required when we add new people,” Cooke said. “It’s a lot of training time.”
The district has 38 volunteers, double the number it had three years ago. The volunteers are a mix of people who live in the community and respond to calls as necessary, and those who sign up to work certain shifts, mostly during the day.
About 66 % of the district’s calls come in between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., when there are the least amount of volunteers who live in Newman Lake available, Cooke said. Having another paid person on staff will also help with calls that come in during the day.
Each new volunteer requires 200 hours of training and more than $5,000 in equipment.
“Much of our gear is out of date and doesn’t meet standards,” Harbin said.
Information about the levy lid lift will be presented during an open house from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Station 1, 9324 N. Starr Road.
The open house will also allow people to tour the station, peek inside fire trucks and see equipment demonstrations. There will be an extrication demonstration at 11 a.m.
The new fire chief, Daron Bement, will also be there to meet members of the community.