North Whidbey Fire and Rescue approves tax hike

Despite the fact they are sitting on nearly $2.8 million earmarked for a new or improved station, commissioners for North Whidbey Fire and Rescue approved several budget proposals, including a tax increase, during a special meeting last Wednesday.

The gathering was delayed because one commissioner was absent from a Monday meeting and the remaining two couldn’t agree on a proposed 1 percent property tax increase that would bring an additional $14,000 to the fire district coffers.

Once all three commissioners were present, the tax increase was approved with Jerry Goen and Bruce Carman voting for the proposal and TJ Lamont voting against the tax boost, citing the lagging economy as a reason staff should find other solutions to balancing the budget.

“I don’t think it’s a good time to be raising taxes,” Lamont said. “I’d rather see some cutbacks if we need to rather than arbitrarily raising taxes.”

All three commissioners unanimously approved the district’s 2011 budget during the meeting. North Whidbey Fire and Rescue’s operating budget for 2011 stands at $1.37 million, which is down from $1.38 million for 2010.

The fire district, which encompasses North Whidbey Island outside of Oak Harbor from Deception Pass to Libbey Road, is expected to collect $1.46 million in property taxes next year. That amount includes the tax increase the commissioners approved Wednesday afternoon. If the fire district hadn’t signed off on the tax increase, it could have “banked” the 1 percent and added it in a future year.

A significant portion of the fire district budget is set aside for station construction or improvements. Fire district officials have squirreled away nearly $2.8 million to pay for new stations or to improve existing facilities.

District officials are currently discussing several options on the future locations of the district’s stations and how many they will continue to operate.

Most notably, the fire district is negotiating the purchase of the vacated Whidbey Island Mazda dealership located on the north end of Oak Harbor. The four-acre property, which includes both a 9,400-square-foot building and a 2,900-square-foot building, is listed at $1.95 million. However fire district staff is offering considerably less.

Marv Koorn, chief of North Whidbey Fire and Rescue, described the two sides as “far apart” in coming up with a price for the facility. He expected the commissioners would decide this week whether to continue moving forward with negotiating for the property.

Officials are still deciding how many stations the district should operate. They are looking at how the number of stations would affect response times and homeowners’ insurance rates.

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