South Lake Whatcom fire department asks for 5.3 percent tax increase

A levy on the ballot in the South Lake Whatcom Fire District would effectively bump up the current rate of fire department taxes by about 5.3 percent.

That extra tax money would “offset the increasing cost of doing business,” said District 18 Fire Chief Scott Crowe.

Right now residents on the south shore of Lake Whatcom — and further south to Cain Lake, and west along Park Road — pay about 94 cents per $1,000 of property value to support the local fire department. That’s split up into two separate taxes: The general levy is near a 67-cent rate, according to the latest county assessor’s tax book; another levy, that pays only for Emergency Medical Services, tacks on another 28 cents per $1,000.

If the measure gets approved Nov. 4, taxpayers would pay $1 per $1,000 of property value into the general fire levy fund. That translates to an increase of about $5 per $100,000 of value. Once the EMS levy expires, as it’s scheduled to next year, fire officials have pledged not to ask voters to renew it, if the 5-cent overall increase gets approved.

Because of rising property values, the regular fire levy has steadily dropped since the last time voters approved a flat $1 rate two decades ago, back in November 1994. Costs of running a fire department, on the other hand, haven’t dropped.

Fire district leadership hopes to replace an aging ambulance by 2016. That could be delayed if the fire levy doesn’t get approved.

“Of course, that’s something I don’t want to have to think about,” Crowe said.

Other fire trucks in the district have another decade or so of service life in them. A levy increase would help the district to build up its reserves, Crowe said, so those vehicles can be replaced in the long run.

Crowe works part time as chief of the district. Twenty-four volunteers are paid a modest stipend: $6 per three-hour training session, plus $4 per 911 call they respond to.

“We’ve got a great and dedicated bunch of volunteers,” Crowe said. “We’d love to keep them well equipped and well trained.”

No formal opposition to the levy has been raised.