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Fire District 7 asking to return levy rate to $1.50

MONROE — Fire District 7 is returning to the voters to ask for a levy lid lift, after a summertime funding request was defeated at the polls.
The levy on voters’ current ballots requires a simple majority to lift the lid for one year, then the levy rate will fall after that based on assessed value, said Heather Chadwick, public information and education officer for the district.
If voters approve the measure, it will return the property tax rate to $1.50. For someone who owns a $300,000 home, that homeowner would see a $42 increase for the year if the levy passes.
The rate typically falls over time, which is what periodically causes the request to bring the rate back up.
Fire taxes are generally 10 to 11 percent of your tax assessment, said Chief Gary Meek.
“That’s your local tax dollars in your local community,” Meek said.  
Meek said this levy lid lift maintains operating costs. Those costs are well planned, he said. Fire District 7 is audited regularly, as all districts are, Meek said. In 35 years they have never had a finding, Meek said. Operation costs are high, with half the fleet needing replacement every 20 years — which Fire District 7 cycles through in every 18, he said.
Fire districts are fully funded through voter-approved, local funds. The district charges a 50-cent EMS levy and the ability to charge up to $1.50 for its main levy.
“We can tax up to $2 as a junior taxing district. But we can never exceed that without going to a special levy,” such as a bond or a maintenance and operations levy, Meek said. “Fire District 7 has not gone for a bond since 1978.”
Operation costs increase between 2 and 3 percent per year, he said. Before Initiative 747 was enacted, fire commissioners would ask for a 3 percent increase. Initiative 747 restricted funding to a
1 percent increase, he said.
He said Fire District 7 is currently doing “exactly what 747 asked us to do. Citizens voted for the Tim Eyman initiative that limits the tax to 1 percent — if you want more money or need more money, ask the taxpayers. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Meek is hopeful that voters will understand the levy lid lift is not only needed but in good hands. And he’s ready to explain how Fire District 7 plans its expenditures, so people can feel confident about approving use of tax dollars for fire service.
He said the August levy request failed because, according to the feedback Fire District 7 sought, voters did not like the word “permanent.” The word “permanent” has to be used, even though voters get the option to revoke the funding, every six years.  
“It’s problematic (wording) for us,” Meek said, “but we have to follow the rules.”
 Standard of cover evaluations are used to determine needs such as new stations and other expenses. The evaluations involve a third party agency using metrics for predictive reasoning, drawing on data of mathematicians and physicists, Meek said. They measure things like “we want to have the units out the door in 90 seconds” or the ability to get a patient with a specific condition to the hospital “in the golden hour,” Meek said.
So, as new money comes in, “we don’t just say, ‘hey we’ve got new money, let’s go blow it.’ We say our standard of cover says we have to do this, let’s start preparing,” he said.
“We’re not looking for new spending. This helps us maintain our budget,” Meek said.
Kevin O’Brien, Lake Stevens Fire’s current chief and the future chief of Fire District 7, seconded that sentiment.
“We take great care in being stewards of taxpayer dollars. We run the business of the fire district with great fiscal responsibility. And bottom line, this levy is all about maintaining our service,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien will take over as fire chief when Lake Stevens merges with Fire District 7. Meek will stay on as a liasion. The two districts will officially merge in January. Voters approved the merge with an overwhelming majority this summer.



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