A levy on the ballot for Lummi Island residents would more than double the rate of property taxes that pay for firefighter services, to make up for a levy rate that has been sinking for two decades.
Proposition One, on the Nov. 4 ballot, marks the first time leadership in Fire District 11 has asked for a fire levy tax increase since 1993. Back then voters approved a rate of $1 per $1,000 of property value. Over the next two decades the rate gradually dipped — due in part to fluctuating property values — before it nudged up to the current rate of 65 cents per $1,000, the second-lowest fire levy rate of 13 districts in Whatcom County.
If approved, the tax would be increased to a $1.49 rate, a penny under the maximum of $1.50 per $1,000.
The bottom line for taxpayers? A homeowner with property valued at $250,000, for example, would pay $372.50, an extra $208.85 per year — a steep, one-time increase that, according to Fire Chief Duncan McLane, would fund a long-term vision for Lummi Island’s fire department.
“Do we do a little increment now?” McLane asked. “Or do we try to do this for the next 20 years? The board’s decision was to try to do it for the next 20 years. If the voters say no, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
A large chunk of the levy increase — that is, about six-tenths of it — would pay for a new small fleet of fire trucks, once the current ones get worn and outdated. Fire officials hope to purchase:
• A new fire engine in 13 years. The current engine is a ’96 model.
• A new initial attack vehicle in 13 years. That’s also called a mini-pumper: bigger than a pickup, smaller than a full engine. It would replace the current ’07 model.
• A new water tender in 16 years, to retire a tender made in 2000.
And none of those are cheap, McLane said. The levy increase also would help to cover vehicle repairs, better firefighter training, and employee benefits for the district’s two full-time employees: the fire chief and a new fire captain.
Firefighters on Lummi Island respond to roughly 50 to 60 calls per year. Eighteen people on staff are volunteers. They are not paid.
No formal opposition has been raised against the levy.
A separate smaller tax — only for emergency medical services on the island, and not for general fire district services — has been renewed three times since 1993.