FERNDALE - Taxpayers shouldn't see any changes in service or costs as Ferndale has started the process of being annexed into Whatcom County Fire District 7.
The city already contracts with the district to provide fire service within its borders, but City Council unanimously approved an ordinance declaring the city's intent to annex into the district at its meeting Monday, July 21.
The annexation request now will go to the fire district's board of commissioners, who can vote on whether to approve it when they meet. If the commissioners approve - and city officials say they seem likely to - it would eventually end up on the ballot.
City residents and those in the district would then vote on whether to approve the annexation. That vote is expected in a special election next February, and if approved, the annexation would take effect at the beginning of 2016.
An annexation wouldn't change what Ferndale or district residents pay on their property taxes. Currently, the city collects money from taxpayers and then pays the district. Joining the district would mean taxpayer money goes directly to the district, skipping the city as a middle man.
One advantage of annexation is representation, Councilman Jon Mutchler said. Because the city isn't in the district, city residents can't run or vote for commissioner positions.
The annexation also would mean the city no longer has to worry about fluctuating property values affecting the costs of its contract with the fire district when budgeting. The district charges its users a levy rate based on the assessed value of the entire district: the higher the assessed value, the lower the rate. Ferndale is billed at that rate for the assessed value of property in the city - about $1 billion.
One big factor affecting the district's assessed value: BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries have appealed their 2013 assessments to get them reduced, in BP's case down from $975 million. Until the State Board of Tax Appeals rules on those assessments, BP is being listed on tax rolls for $700 million, about $124 million less than the year before. That drop pushes the tax rate higher for everyone in the district and for the city. Those fluctuations can be difficult to project, City Clerk Sam Taylor said, and it has been a struggle because budgets have to be completed before the next year's levy rates are determined.