District wants big levy lid lift

Commissioners from the North Whidbey Fire and Rescue District approved a motion at Tuesday’s meeting to go to the voters with a multi-year proposal for a levy lid lift from the current 64.7 cents per $1,000 to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

For the owner of a $300,000 home, that would mean an increase from $194.10 a year to $300 in the portion of property taxes that go to the district.

If the levy is approved, the district would have all the money needed for a new building in addition to having funds available for improvements at other fire stations within the district and for equipment replacement.

At a workshop of firefighters and commissioners Sept. 20, cost-cutting changes were made in construction plans for the new Heller Road fire station. But even with the adjustments, the district is still $1.5 million short of the estimated cost of $4.2 million for the facility.

“At the workshop we discussed whether to do all of the construction at one time or try doing it piecemeal,” Fire Chief Marv Koorn said. “It was the consensus to build it all at the same time.”

The district currently has $2.7 million set aside for construction and it was decided at the workshop the best way obtain additional funding was to raise the district’s levy.

Koorn said the last time the district asked for a levy increase was in 1985 and the levy rate has since dropped from a high of 85 cents per $1,000 to the current rate of 64.7 cents.

Koorn said there were several reasons for constructing the facility at the Heller Road location.

“The Heller Road station is a hub for the entire district,” he said. “The building is centrally located, there is good traffic flow through the area and we own the property.”

It was also the consensus at the workshop that it would be a better idea to build a new facility than try to remodel the old one.

“Either way we will need a conditional use permit from the city, and at an estimated cost of $250 per square foot for the new facility, it will be a good deal for the district,” Koorn said.

Chairman Bruce Carman said this is something important and everyone needs to be in agreement.

“We are going to have to sell this idea to the public and the firefighters association will basically be going out and doing the work,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Morse suggested hiring a consultant to show the public there is need for the levy increase.

“What we need to do is tell the voters, ‘These are the facts.’ I think it would be a good idea to get someone from the outside to do this,” he said.

Koorn said he thought an outside opinion from a consultant would be a big plus and there was also a need to send a “factual newsletter” to everyone in the district and let them know why improvements need to be made.

“It’s time we take a hard look at our finances so we can do some modernization,” he said.

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