Levy Lid Lift
Who we are
We provide fire suppression and emergency medical service (EMS) to 9,250 people over 125 square miles in the unincorporated areas west, south, and east of the cities of Walla Walla and College Place and the Port of Walla Walla Regional Airport.
We are a combination fire district that relies on volunteer, part-time, and full-time emergency personnel. Our emergency personnel are highly trained to provide structural and wildland fire suppression, Basic and Advanced Life Support (EMS), ambulance transport, vehicle accidents and extrication, and life safety programs.
We are debt free, have passed all independent financial audits by the state, and we work with neighboring agencies to share costs and improve emergency service levels.
How we fund emergency services
Our daily fire and life safety services are funded by a fire levy capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The fire levy accounts for almost 60 percent of our budget. The fire levy also helps fund EMS (Basic and Advanced Life Support and ambulance transports), which is partially funded through a countywide levy capped at $0.50 per $1,000. The county EMS levy is not adequate to fund the EMS program. EMS calls account for 68 percent of all emergencies.
In 2003, our fire levy rate was $1.39 per $1,000. Since then, the rate has dropped to $0.88.
Why did the levy rate drop?
Each year we are allowed to collect a set amount of revenue. State law limits us to that amount of revenue plus 1 percent more per year. Even if property values double, we can only collect 1 percent more. This means that the levy rate falls as property values rise to limit our budget to the same amount per year plus that 1 percent increase. This is called “levy compression” and impacts our ability to provide emergency services.
What is a levy lid lift?
From time to time, we must ask voters to reset our fire levy. This is known as a levy lid lift, and it helps keep up with higher call volumes and costs to provide service. Our annual costs to provide emergency services increase 4 to 5 percent each year, but state law limits us to a 1 percent increase. The 1 percent increase is no longer adequate to meet the emergency service needs of our community.
What are our challenges?
- Our emergency call volumes for our fire district have increased 30% since 2018. Higher call volumes and our large service area (125 square miles) require additional personnel to respond to calls faster.
- Our facilities require renovations to improve response times and protect firefighters’ health and safety.
- Station 41 (2251 Howard Street) requires additional sleeping quarters so more volunteers can respond from the station.
- Cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters. Station 41 requires an improved ventilation system to remove diesel exhaust fumes away from firefighters.
- One fire engine is 26 years old and needs replacing. The replacement cost has risen significantly in the last 24 months. Current funding for our apparatus replacement program is not adequate.
Levy lid lift would improve emergency services
We can meet our daily and capital needs through a basic fire levy lid lift, which saves taxpayers money. We are considering asking voters for a lid lift of $0.38 per $1,000 sometime in 2024. Lid lift funding would pay for up to three firefighters/paramedics to respond to higher call volumes, renovations to improve Station 41 and replace emergency apparatus that has reached the end of its usable life.
What will this cost me?*
This would be our first levy lid lift in almost 40 years. The $0.38 lid lift would cost the owner of a $400,000 home (considered average for the area) an additional $152 per year or $12.67 per month.
Fire Chief Rocky Eastman welcomes your questions at 509-529-1282 or email@example.com.
*Homeowners who are 61 years or older and others who meet income and eligibility requirements may qualify for a property tax exemption. Contact the Walla Walla County Assessor at 509-524-2560 or online at https://www.co.walla-walla.wa.us/government/assessor/senior_exemption.php to see if you qualify.