Editorial: Fire districts worth the cost, especially when you need them

  • Tuesday, July 21, 2020 6:41pm
  • Opinion

You get what you pay for. That’s what they say.

Voters in South and North Whidbey have the opportunity this year to decide whether they’re willing to increase property taxes in order to increase the budgets of fire and emergency services. South Whidbey Fire/EMS has a levy lid lift request on the Aug. 4 primary ballot, and North Whidbey Fire and Rescue will be asking for a lift on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Statistically speaking, both measures deserve to pass. North Whidbey, in particular, has been struggling because of the failure of levy lift measures in the past.

It’s apprehensible that some Whidbey residents perceive excess when they consider fire districts. They watch caravans of shiny trucks with lights and sirens respond to minor fender benders and burnt chocolate chip cookies.

Some residents look at fire stations and wonder about the costs. Fire chiefs are accused of empire building.

Those opinions about the fire service are quickly changed when a daughter goes into anaphylaxic shock, an elderly parent crashes a car or the outhouse starts on fire with grandpa inside. Strangers and volunteers in the form of firefighters and EMTs arrive within minutes to literally save lives. Suddenly, all the the money in the world should be dedicated to fire districts.

For voters, some simple, objective numbers may help. The per capita property tax collection is probably the most meaningful statistic to consider.

The tax rates of two Island County’s fire districts are below average compared to fire districts throughout the state.

The average rate per 1,000 residents in the state is about 0.8. North Whidbey’s rate is 0.62 and South Whidbey’s is 0.65, or even lower if vacation homes are factored in, according to the Department of Revenue.

Due to community levy support, Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue’s per capita property tax rate, at 1.3 per 1,000 population, is more than the North and South Whidbey districts combined.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS is hoping to catch up with an increase of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The fund will allow the district to hire eight full-time firefighters and replace some emergency apparatus.

North Whidbey’s request is more modest. District officials are asking for an additional 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The plan is to replace aging fire trucks, breathing apparatus and emergency radios.

In the end, it’s up to voters to decide if it’s worth paying for.

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