BELLINGHAM - Residents of Whatcom County Fire District 4 will vote on a new levy this November, a year after a measure to bolster the budget failed by 13 votes.
If approved, homeowners in the district would be taxed 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to pay for emergency medical services. Under state law, an EMS levy can only fund resources for medical aid calls.
The measure needs 60 percent "yes" votes to pass. The levy would be permanent. For a homeowner with property valued at $250,000, the increase would mean an extra $75 each year in taxes.
Firefighters in the district serve about 36 square miles from the north shore of Lake Whatcom to East Smith Road. In recent years the district has gradually come under the umbrella of North Whatcom Fire and Rescue, its much larger neighbor to the north. Because of the contract between the jurisdictions, career firefighters staff the Britton Loop fire station 24 hours a day.
If the levy doesn't pass that would change, because four full-time positions could be cut from the station, said North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Chief Ron Anderson. Twelve career firefighters work there now, he said.
"The increase will raise an additional $350,000 in revenue," NWFR officials wrote in a statement, "which is the amount needed just to maintain services as they are without making cuts."
Last year, a levy increase - which was a regular levy for maintenance and operations, not just for EMS services - failed by a vote of 1,140 to 1,153. Back then backers hoped for a tax increase of 15 cents per $1,000 of property value. It would have maintained services and brought the district one step closer to a full-on merger with North Whatcom, which has a higher tax rate. (For fire districts to merge their tax rates must match.)
This measure wouldn't bring the districts closer to merging, Anderson said, because the new revenue would go into a separate fund - one that better reflects how the district actually spends its money. Three-quarters of all calls to Fire District 4 are requests for medical aid.
The district has the the third-highest levy rate in the county at $1.11 per $1,000, according to the county assessor's office.
The failure of last year's measure has left the district with less than $50,000 in reserves, Anderson said.
A town hall meeting with the fire chief will be 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at district headquarters, 4142 Britton Loop.
MORE LEVY INFO
To read Fire Chief Ron Anderson's detailed information about the levy, click here.