Fire chief explains need for levy increase
Community meetings scheduled for July 11 & 12
MONROE - How much of your house and the valuables inside it could burn in five minutes?
That’s a question many people wouldn’t dare ask. But if Monroe Fire District 3’s levy doesn’t pass Aug. 7, station closures would mean increasing firefighter response times from three to eight minutes in some areas, begging the question: What are you willing to lose?
Fire Chief Jamie Silva hopes voters in the Monroe area don’t want to lose any of their current fire service, but if they don’t approve a new maintenance and operations levy running in the August primary, he will make significant cuts.
The fire department relies heavily on property taxes to pay for fire and emergency medical services — property taxes make up 80 percent of Monroe Fire’s operating budget. And because assessed home values plummeted during the recession, so did revenue for the fire department.
Between 2009 and 2012, the fire district will lose $1.54 million of its operating budget.
Silva said the department had anticipated collecting $2.1 million less in 2013 than in 2009, and that just wasn’t going to cut it.
“We want the taxpayers to know that we’ve tried to make cuts where we could,” Silva said. All district employees voluntarily waived their cost of living raise for 2011 and 2012, Silva said.
“Do they want the same level of service they have now? If they don’t pass that levy, they’ll have a loss of service,” Silva said. “And if you’re trapped in a burning vehicle, that could mean life and death.”
If the levy fails, Silva said the department would lay off 12 full-time firefighters and six part-time firefighters, close Station 32 at Wagner Hill, as well as discontinue special operations like water and flood rescue, hazardous materials response and technical rescue (building collapse and rope rescues).
According to the department website: “The loss of 18 firefighter positions will represent a loss of five firefighters on duty every day.”
How does this impact the area’s residents?
“Longer response time,” Silva said.
Without the levy, district residents could also begin receiving bills for ambulance transports.
Currently, the district bills the patient’s insurance company, and the unpaid portion is written off. Without revenue from the levy, however, residents would begin receiving a bill for what insurance does not cover.
The four-year levy asks taxpayers to chip in $14.40 a month. This increase will bring in a necessary $2.25 million annually to keep essential fire service as it is now, Silva said.
In 2009, the average homeowner paid $47.12 per month for fire services. In 2013 and if the new levy is approved by voters, the average homeowner will pay $44.40 per month. If the new levy fails, the district will collect only $30 per month from the average homeowner.
The drop is a result of declining assessed home values. The average home was valued at $204,600 in 2012 by the Snohomish County Assessor’s Office. Home values are expected to drop 12 percent in 2013 or down to $180,048.
Silva said the fire department has “always had great support from taxpayers” and is hopeful that the levy will pass. His only worry is that the levy needs a supermajority to pass — a 60 percent vote instead of a simple majority vote of 50 percent.
Monroe Fire will be sending out a fact sheet at the end of this week to inform area residents, Silva said.
The district also will be hosting two community meetings to discuss the maintenance and operations levy. The first will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 11 at the Tualco Grange, 18933 Tualco Road. The second will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at the East County Senior Center, 276 Sky River Parkway.
Both meetings are in Monroe.