Fire District 4 asks for levy rate reset with levy lid lift
SNOHOMISH — Fire District 4 is seeing growing call volumes, rising operational costs and is planning a new fire station, it says in its levy measure pitch. Ballots for the Aug. 1 primary arrive this week.
The request is to reset the levy rate to $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value for 2024, plus give permission to lift the base rate by up to 6% annually each of the following five years after that.
If the levy passes, the money would be focused on two major goals: To pay for its future fire station along Pine Avenue with all cash, and to hire more firefighters who'd be posted at the future station, Fire Chief Don Waller said.
Growing call volumes are creating situations where the closest firefighter crew is already out on a call, meaning the next nearest station has to respond. That’s slowing down FD4’s response times below national standards.
If the levy lift passes, then when the future Pine Avenue station opens, the district would hire six to eight more firefighters and place them there. Waller said that adding staff would give enough fire personnel in the station to deploy both the ambulance and the fire truck to different calls from this station; right now, it can only send one crew on one rig at a time from any station.
Most of the capital expense to build the new station would come from money the district has in hand already. It plans to use up to $4 million in levy revenue to cover the remaining gap. Fire District 4 says this construction gameplan, by how it’s been scheduled out, can only be done if the levy is restored.
If the levy lift does not pass, the district would need to step back to assess balancing its needs and its plans with a smaller revenue stream. Its fire board would consult with the community on how to proceed, Waller said.
The district’s levy rate has decreased to $1.15 per $1,000 in assessed value. A tandem emergency medical services levy for the district was 44 cents per $1,000.
For people living in a sample $500,000 home, restoring the fire levy rate back to $1.50 would raise the fire levy charge by $175 on their property taxes in 2024, for a total of $750 — less if home values go down, more if home values go up. The owners of an example $500,000 home were charged $575 for the fire levy this year.
The district sought six-year permanent levy lid lifts in 2011 and 2017. The permanency factor is that it sets a new baseline for the tax levy amount going forward without reverting back at the end of the six years.
This year’s measure as well asks voters for permission to increase this baseline by up to 6% each year during the course of the six-year period to keep up with costs. The fire board decides how much of an increase annually. Historically the board hasn’t taken a full 6%,Waller said.
The district has been using permanent lifts as a budgeting tool, Waller said. Without it, the district can’t keep up with growing service demand and growing operation costs.
If the levy passes, the Pine Avenue station should be up and running in late 2025 or 2026 and it will become the district’s future headquarters, Waller said.
Waller said the new station will cost between $10 to $15 million based on current best estimates for the basic building. The true price will become more precise as construction plans get refined.
It’s going to be sited between Third and Fourth streets as part of redeveloping the block. (The city’s future City Hall and police station planned for the same block are going to be funded separately by the city, not with fire district dollars.)
While the levy rate decreased over time, revenue from the tax levy rose during the past six years as area property values rose.
At $1.15 per $1,000, the levy will earn $9.4 million for the district this year. In 2018, after voters reset the levy rate to $1.50, the district earned $5.7 million.
Restoring the levy rate to $1.50 per $1,000 would bring in somewhere between $3 million and under $3.5 million more than 2023’s levy revenue in its first year; the calculation from the county’s tax department isn’t final yet.
Fire districts are capped at no more than $1.50 per $1,000 for standard levies.
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