Levy Lid Lift

 

NWFR July Newsletter

NWFR June Newsletter

Fire Levy Presentation Slides  Message from Commissioner Bosman and Fire Chief

Questions about Prop. 2021-3, the Fire Levy Lid Lift?

Join us at a virtual public meeting to learn why voters are being asked to increase funding to maintain and enhance current fire and emergency medical response services. 

Thursday, July 15 at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 at 7 p.m.
https://zoom.us/j/96250395043

Meeting ID: 962 5039 5043

https://zoom.us/j/92727729856

Meeting ID: 927 2772 9856

Committed to serving our growing communities

North Whatcom Fire & Rescue (NWFR), also known as Whatcom County Fire District 21, provides fire and emergency medical services and transport to approximately 33,800 residents, businesses and properties within its service area of 156 square miles. 77 dedicated fire fighters/emergency medical technicians, volunteers and administrative staff work out of the three fire stations operating in the district.

The growing NWFR district has seen a significant increase in service calls over the last several years. In 2020, the agency responded to 3,679 calls for service—over 52% more than in 2011 (2,405 calls). NWFR had fewer service calls in 2020 due to COVID-19. The 2019 call total was 3983, which is a 65% call increase since 2011. Even with careful resource management and (self-imposed) firefighter salary reductions, this increased demand is straining NWFR’s ability to maintain existing service levels.

Our service territory covers unincorporated Whatcom County north of Bellingham to the Canadian border and around the City of Lynden; the City of Blaine; and the communities of Birch Bay, Semiahmoo, Custer, Delta, Northwood, Wiser Lake, and Laurel.

Funding fire and emergency medical services

Property taxes—based on assessed value of building and land—are currently the primary revenue source for funding these important public safety services. Under state law, NWFR can collect only 1% more in property tax revenues each year, plus the value of new construction. This has not been enough to keep up with inflation and the growth in population and calls for service.

In 2006, NWFR voters approved a fire levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value (the maximum allowed under state law) to fund operations. The levy rate drops as property values increase. Today, NWFR collects $1.15 per $1,000 in assessed value, which is insufficient to maintain current service levels or to meet future service demands.

Voters will decide future services

On the August 3, 2021 ballot, NWFR voters will decide on Proposition 2021-3—whether to raise the fire levy rate to $1.45 per $1,000 assessed value. This action is called a fire levy lid lift, and NWFR voters have not been asked to vote on a levy increase in 12 years.

Approval of the levy lid lift will allow NWFR to maintain response times and improve response reliability. Specifically, if such a measure is approved, NWFR intends to utilize funds for the following purposes:

  • Add 4 battalion chiefs: This position is fire industry standard that manages crew responses, especially critical in complex incidents.
  • Add 4 firefighters to staff a peak-hour transport unit: Responding to the significant increase in service calls, this additional staff and unit will provide increased ability to transport residents from the more remote communities in NWFR’s large service area, especially during peak times when NWFR is receiving multiple calls in both populated and rural areas.
  • Replace aging fire engines, a ladder truck, water tenders: Most of NWFR’s vehicles which are critical for 911 response have exceeded their planned useful lives. Levy funds would be used to replace needed apparatus, equipment and tools.

If approved by voters, the new levy rate would go into effect in 2021 (with collection beginning in 2022).

NWFR FIRE LEVY LID LIFT | FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 North Whatcom Fire & Rescue (NWFR) is placing a levy lid lift measure on the August 2021 ballot. The following answers questions about NWFR services, funding, how we got here and what the ballot measure will mean for residents and businesses.

  1. Who is North Whatcom Fire & Rescue (NWFR)?
    North Whatcom Fire & Rescue (NWFR), also known as Whatcom County Fire District 21, provides fire and emergency medical services to approximately 33,800 residents, businesses and properties within its service area of 156 square miles. 77 dedicated fire fighters/emergency medical technicians, volunteers and administrative staff work out of the three fire stations operating in the district.NWFR also provides fire and emergency services to Whatcom County Fire District 4 under a joint operating agreement. While NWFR’s territory surrounds the City of Lynden, the City has its own fire department.
  2.  What is a Levy Lid Lift?
    In 2001, voters approved statewide initiative (I-747) which placed a limit (or ‘lid’) on how much property tax revenues collected by a taxing jurisdiction can grow each year. The initiative set that growth limit at one percent (1%) per year (plus the value of new construction)—unless voters approve raising that “lid”. At the August 2021 election, NWFR voters will be asked if they want to “lift the levy limitation” or “lift the lid”—to provide adequate funds to maintain current levels of fire and emergency medical service. If the levy lid lift is approved, NWFR will collect property taxes in 2022 at a levy rate of $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed value—an amount in excess of the current “lid”.  In subsequent years, NWFR property tax collections will again be subject to the 1% per year limit e.g., in 2023, NWFR can collect just 1% more in total property taxes (plus the value of new construction) than it did in 2022.NWRF has not asked its voters for a levy rate increase in 12 years.
  3. How are fire and emergency services funded today?
    Property taxes—based on the assessed value of building and land—are currently the primary revenue source for funding these important public safety services. In 2006, NWFR voters approved a fire levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value (the maximum allowed under state law) to fund operations. The levy rate drops as property values increase and the I-747 (see #2) lid of 1% remains in place. Today, NWFR collects $1.15 per $1,000 in assessed value, which is insufficient to maintain current service levels or to meet future service demands. NWFR voters will decide whether to raise that to $1.45 per $1,000 assessed value on the August election. The proposed levy lid lift measure will not impact the Countywide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy which funds advance life support (medics) across Whatcom County. That separate EMS levy will remain as is.
  4. Why is a levy lid lift necessary?
    NWFR is at a financial crossroads and funding for the current level of fire and emergency medical services is unsustainable. Service calls in our growing district have significantly increased over the last several years. In 2020, the agency responded to 3,679 calls for service—over 52% more than in 2011 (2,405 calls). NWFR had fewer service calls in 2020 due to COVID-19. The 2019 call total was 3,983—a 65% call increase since 2011. Even with careful resource management and firefighters and the union agreeing to forego and return salary increases, increased demand is straining NWFR’s ability to maintain existing service levels.
  5. What will the levy lid lift pay for?
    The levy lid lift has been proposed to enhance service levels and response times and improve response reliability. If the measure is approved, NWFR intends to utilize funds for the following purposes:
    • Add four battalion chiefs: This position is a fire industry standard that manages crew responses, especially critical in complex incidents.
    • Add four firefighters to staff a peak-hour transport unit: Responding to the significant increase in service calls, these new personnel will provide increased ability to transport residents during peak times when NWFR is receiving multiple calls in both populated and rural areas.
    • Replace aging fire engines, a ladder truck, water tenders (to bring water to areas not served by municipal water systems) and firefighter equipment: Most of NWFR’s vehicles which are critical for 911 response have exceeded their planned useful lives. Levy funds would be used to replace needed vehicles and other equipment.
  6. What will the levy lid lift cost me?
    It depends on the assessed value of your property. The assessed value is set by the Whatcom County assessor and is typically less than fair market value. For the owner of a home with an assessed value of $400,000, the levy lid lift—if approved— would mean an annual property tax increase of $121.60 in 2022, or an additional $10.13 per month.
    Assessed property value Annual cost at current levy rate of $1.15/$1,000 Annual cost at proposed levy rate of $1.45/$1,000 Increased cost if lid lift were in place in 2021
    $400,000 $458.40 $580 $121.60/year or $10.13/month
    $600,000 $687.60 $870.00 $182.40/year or $15.20/month

    The assessed value of properties changes each year. The levy rate will decline over time as assessed values in the District rise. The chart above shows the costs if the proposed $1.45 levy rate were in place in 2021. If approved by voters, the new levy rate would go into effect beginning in 2022.

  7. How is the levy lid lift approved?
    Implementing a levy lid lift requires approval from a simple majority (50 percent + 1) of voters.
  8. What happens if the levy lid lift is not approved?
    Current fire and emergency medical services levels cannot be maintained, and replacement of aging vehicles is not possible with existing revenues. If the levy lid lift fails, NWFR will assess why voters rejected the measure, respond, and likely go back to voters on a future ballot. In the interim, we will explore other options, including foregoing cost of living increases for staff, which could risk them leaving the department.NWFR provides fire and emergency medical services to Fire District 4 under a joint operating agreement. To address similar financial challenges, District 4 is separately seeking voter approval of a levy lid lift (also $1.45 per 1,000 assessed value) on the August election. NWRF and District 4 are also exploring the possibility of a Regional Fire Authority (RFA)—a special purpose district established by voters in a service area that provides stable and enhanced funding for fire and medical emergency services.
  9. How can I learn more about the levy lid lift?
    For more information please visit www.nwfrs.net/levy-lid-lift/, email: info@nwfrs.com or call:360.318.9933.