WHATCOM COUNTY FIRE DISTRICT #4
PROPOSITION 2021-12 | Fire Levy Lid Lift
Necessary to maintain current fire and emergency medical services
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
TIME MATTERS in an emergency—a heart attack, a house fire, a car accident. How fast fire and emergency medical help arrives at the scene plays a significant role in a patient’s overall outcome and survival rate.
Whatcom County Fire District 4 cannot maintain current response times and service levels with existing funds so the District is going back to voters with Proposition 2021-12, at the November 2 general election. All funds go directly to the Fire District and can only be used for fire protection in our District. Funds do not go to Whatcom County.
The measure failed at the August primary, falling 377 votes short. The additional funding under Prop. 2021-12 is critical if residents and businesses want current fire and emergency medical service levels and response times continued. If the measure fails, response times will be slower.
The following provides information about Fire District 4: our services, how they are provided and funded, and what Prop 2021-12 will mean for residents and businesses.
1. Who is Whatcom County Fire District 4?
Whatcom County Fire District 4 (“District 4”) is a separate municipal government, created by voters in 1954. District 4 has contracted with Fire District 21 for 10 years to provide fire and basic life support services to District 4’s over 9,800 residents. This efficient partnership with District 21—known as North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR)—has served us well because District 4 is too small to cost-effectively operate our own fire department.
Prior to the August primary election, neither NWFR nor District 4 have asked their voters for an increase in funding in 12 and 8 years respectively, even as our population and calls for services have increased. The COVID pandemic and state legislative changes related to increased fire department and EMS response to mental health calls have meant the complexity of our responses has also grown.
We can no longer continue to maintain response times and service levels for our residents and businesses without additional funds.
2. What is a Levy Lid Lift?
A “levy lid lift” is a voter approved action to increase property tax collection by more than the 1% per year “lid” put in place by Initiative 747 in 2001. Specifically, Initiative 747 limits the amount of property tax a jurisdiction may collect to one percent (1%) more per year plus the value of new construction. The limit remains regardless of inflation or population growth or increased demand for service. The only way to exceed that “lid” is with voter consent, requiring simple majority (50% +1) voter approval.
Both District 4 and NWFR are asking voters to approve fire levy lid lifts to the same level—$1.45 per $1,000 of assessed value—at the November election.
3. How are fire and emergency services funded today?
District 4’s services are primarily funded by two voter approved property tax levies—a Fire Levy and an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Levy.
- The fire levy has not been increased by voters in 27 years (since 1994). In 2021, District 4’s total tax levy rate is $0.82 per $1,000 of assessed value. The highest allowed rate is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation but we are asking for $1.45 per $1,000 assessed valuation, which is what we need to maintain current service levels and response times.
- The EMS levy was first approved by voters 8 years ago, in 2013, and has not been increased. In 2021, the EMS levy is $0.21 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Prop. 2021-12 asks for additional fire levy funds, not EMS funds. If the levy lid lift is approved, District 4 will stop collecting its EMS levy and will only collect the fire levy.
4. Why is Prop. 2021-12: Fire Levy Lid Lift necessary?
District 4 and NWFR are at a financial crossroads. After years of careful budget management, we have simply reached the end of our ability to maintain service levels with existing funds. Additional funding is necessary if residents and businesses want current fire and emergency medical service levels and response times continued.
District 4 and NWFR together serve nearly 44,000 residents across a diverse and expansive 182 square mile territory, out of four fire stations staffed 24/7.
Below are facts—and challenges we face—related to the fire and emergency medical services we provide:
Firefighters/Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)
· Three firefighters (all trained in emergency medical response) are on duty at all times at each station.
· Three is the minimum needed to respond to a 911 call, and four firefighters must be on site in order for any personnel to enter a burning building (which means waiting for command staff or firefighters from another fire station).
· The fire chief is on call 365 days per year, 24/7 to serve as command staff on major incidents.
Emergency Medical Services
· We provide basic life support, and like all Whatcom County Fire Districts, we rely on the County Emergency Medical Service for response to life threatening events.
· The County staffs only one medic car to cover our entire service area.
· For non-life threatening medical injuries and illnesses, we transport patients to the hospital in our aid cars.
· Nearly our entire fleet of fire vehicles is aged beyond their useful lives based on both fire service and industry standards, and we simply do not have the funds to replace them. All our water tenders and one of our ladder vehicles are overdue for replacement and all our fire engines should be in backup or reserve status.
· Older vehicles are less reliable and break down more frequently, which can delay response times, and increases maintenance expenses.
· Because we don’t have funds to replace old vehicles, we are paying more to repair some of these vehicles than they are worth.
· Our staffed stations are on average nearly 15 miles apart. Average response times are currently 8.5 minutes.
· Travel times are extensive across our service territory. As firefighters/EMTs are dispatched to more 911 calls (and more calls come in at the same time), response times increase.
· When multiple 911 calls come into a station (which happens regularly), firefighters/EMTs must be deployed from another station, leaving that service area short-staffed.
· Unlike other fire districts, we cannot depend on mutual aid from other service providers in the northern part of our district, because we are bounded by the Canadian border and the Pacific Ocean.
· 911 calls are significantly increasing.
· In the combined NWFR / District 4 service area, calls for service (including auto aid calls into other jurisdictions) have increased 71% since 2010.
· Current funding is insufficient to maintain existing services levels, replace our aging vehicles and equipment, and address unforeseen challenges—such as complete failure of a fire engine, or problems at our aging fire stations.
· Our firefighters have voluntarily given up wage increases in recent years to preserve jobs.
The time to address these challenges is now if voters want to maintain current response times and service levels.
5. What will Prop. 2021-12: Fire Levy Lid Lift pay for?
We need the levy lid lift to maintain service levels and response times, and improve response reliability as our population and 911 calls continue to grow each year. If the measure is approved, District 4 and its service partner NWFR intend to use funds to:
· Maintain current services levels and response times: Current funding isn’t sufficient. Without additional funding, services levels and response times will decline.
· Add firefighters: to meet increased and more complex service demands including:
* Four firefighters to staff a peak-hour transport unit: Responding to the significant increase in 911 calls, additional personnel will increase our ability to transport residents during peak times and when we are receiving multiple calls.
* Train one shift commander per 24 hour shift to manage complex fire and medical incidents as incident commander. Additional training and expertise is needed to manage responses involving multiple crews, which are common. These newly promoted shift commanders would respond to incidents along with our three-person crews.
* Four firefighters to fill positions vacated by newly-trained shift commanders: Ensuring a full crew of well-prepared firefighters ready to respond safely and effectively to every type of incident.
· Replace obsolete fire engines, a ladder truck, water tenders (to bring water to rural areas not served by municipal water systems) and firefighter equipment: Most of our vehicles which are critical for 911 response have significantly exceeded their planned useful lives. We need to replace obsolete vehicles and other life-saving equipment used by firefighters every day in the field.
6. What will Prop. 2021-12: Fire Levy Lid Lift cost me?
If Proposition 2021-12 is approved, the net result is an additional property tax of $0.42 per $1,000 of assessed value. This will cost the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 an additional $13.90 per month in 2022.
The measure will raise District 4’s regular property tax levy to $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2021, up from its current $0.82 per $1,000 assessed value. If approved, District 4 will stop collecting its EMS levy and will only collect the fire levy.
|Assessed property value||Annual current cost of District 4 combined levies: rate of $1.03/$1,000 of assessed value*||Annual cost at proposed levy rate of $1.45/$1,000 of assessed value*||Increased cost in 2022 if the fire levy lid lift is approved|
|$400,000||$413.20||$580.00||$166.80/year or $13.90/month|
|$600,000||$619.80||$870.00||$250.20/year or $20.85/month|
*District 4 will repeal its EMS levy and only collect the fire levy if the levy lid lift is approved.
Standard exemptions apply, including low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
NWFR is also seeking a fire levy lid lift to this same $1.45 per $1,000 level, on the November ballot.
7. How is the Prop. 2021-12: Fire Levy Lid Lift –approved?
Approval of the fire levy lid lift requires a “yes” vote from a simple majority (50 percent + 1) of District 4 voters at the November 2 election.
8. What happens if Prop. 2021-12: Fire Levy Lid Lift is not approved?
Put simply, current fire and emergency medical services levels and response times cannot be maintained.
· Persons needing medical aid may wait longer for emergency help to arrive. We will not be able to staff the aid car proposed to help manage the increased calls we have experienced in the last decade.
· Our old vehicles won’t be replaced. Our fleet of fire trucks, tenders (bringing water to fire events in rural areas not served by municipal water systems) and aid cars already past their retirement dates, will remain in service. If a vehicle suddenly goes out of service, as is happening more and more frequently, we need to find a back-up. This impacts our response time to fire and aid calls. We are already spending more to repair some vehicles than their replacement value, because we do not have the necessary funds to replace them.
· Reliability at risk. We do not have funds to support unexpected vehicle, equipment or building system failures at our fire stations. This could impact our response time to fire and medical aid calls.
· Our NWFR partnership will be in jeopardy. We will not be able to pay our share of service costs in our partnership with District 21. Difficult choices about how much service to fund in District 4 will be necessary if Prop. 2021-12 is rejected by District 4 voters and NWFR voters approve their similar fire levy lid lift (see below).
To address similar financial challenges, NWFR is separately seeking voter approval of a levy lid lift (also $1.45 per 1,000 assessed value) at the November election. Together, these fire levy lid lifts will stabilize our operations funding and maintain service levels and response times. The fire levy lid lifts will not address all of our needs—such as major capital investments at our fire stations—but preserving current service levels and operational effectiveness is the immediate crisis and priority.
9. How can I learn more about Prop. 2021-12, the fire levy lid lift?
For more information please call: 360-318-9933 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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