Whidbey voters douse fire levy and other money proposals

Despite efforts of volunteer firefighters to inform the community, a levy increase for North Whidbey Fire and Rescue is failing decisively.

According to a count released Tuesday night by the Island County Auditor's Office, a proposed levy increase received 4,156 no votes to only 2,074 yes votes.

The news came as a disappointment to officials, who felt volunteers did a better job promoting the proposal since a similar defeat early this year.

"I guess we thought we did a whole lot better job getting information out," said North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Marv Koorn. Those efforts translated into a 3 percent improvement over the last election. Voters rejected a levy increase in February. Nevertheless, the Nov. 4 levy was failing by a 2-to-1 margin.

He added that firefighters volunteered time visiting community groups and knocking on doors.

The tax increase would have increased the levy by 33 cents per $1,000 assessed property value. The increase would have brought in approximately $775,000.

The extra money would have allowed the fire district to stay on schedule with its equipment replacement, and be able to look at building new stations throughout the district that stretches from Deception Pass to Libbey Road.

Koorn said the district's self-contained, breathing apparatuses have to be replaced. Decisions will also have to be made on engine replacements and whether to rehabilitate current equipment.

Koorn said he will come up with a plan in the coming weeks outlining potential cuts that may have to be made. He said everything including stations, equipment and personnel will be up for consideration.

The fire district could reduce the number of volunteers available at each station and how many can respond to calls. Because North Whidbey Fire and Rescue is staffed by volunteers, he never knows how many firefighters will respond to calls.

Volunteer firefighters do cost the district money. They are reimbursed for the training sessions they attend and for the calls in which they respond. Koorn said it also costs the fire district $3,000 for their gear and an additional $5,000 for their SCBA.

He added the district will have to look at whether such services as high-angle and water rescues can continue to be offered.

As for bringing the levy increase back to the voters, Koorn said the board would probably be reluctant to do such a thing. He said they may wait until the economy improves.

Koorn pointed out that when the board decided to put the levy on the November ballot, the economy was in better shape.

In general local proposals to increase taxes are failing at the polls. Tax increases floated by the Port of Coupeville, the Port District of South Whidbey Island and the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District are all being rejected by voters.

The Port of Coupeville wanted money to pay off the Greenbank Farm, the Port of South Whidbey wanted to build a marina in Langley, and the South Whidbey Park and Recreation District wanted a complex containing two swimming pools an an indoor tennis facility. All failed resoundingly.

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