Editorial: Fire district needs support

Tax dollars are dear to us all, but sometimes it’s necessary to pay more, particularly when the community’s safety is at stake.

Island County residents have already received their ballots for the Feb. 19 election. The presidential primary is the center of media attention, but the more important measure from a local perspective is presented by North Whidbey Fire & Rescue.

The department, largely staffed by volunteer firefighters, is falling short of money needed to maintain its facilities and equipment and expand to serve a growing community.

With the 1 percent annual property tax limitation, it’s impossible to keep up with inflation. That’s why it is periodically necessary to go to the voters and ask for more.

The fire district proposes raising its tax rate to $1 per thousand, up from the present 64.7 cents. This would bring in an additional $700,000 annually for a major expansion of the Heller Road Fire Station, necessary maintenance at other stations, and acquisition of new life-saving equipment.

To the department’s credit, it has already banked $2.8 million for the Heller Road project. But it can’t keep up with escalating construction costs without a financial boost from the taxpayers. This is not news to anyone who has followed the island’s school construction projects in recent years. High inflation in the construction industry is an unfortunate fact of life.

The increase in the tax rate will no doubt be painful for some property owners. For someone with a $300,000 house, it works out roughly to another $106 annually. That’s less than $10 a month, however, and most of us can afford that. Low income seniors should check with the Assessor’s Office to see if they qualify for an exemption.

When it comes to tax money, public safety is at the top of the priority list. North Whidbey needs a modern fire department to respond quickly to emergencies, and first-rate equipment to keep our courageous firefighters as safe as possible. The department deserves support from voters for its levy increase proposal.

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