Levy Lid Lift

What we do

We provide fire and life safety services to 33,800 people over 156 square miles, including the communities of Lynden, Blaine, Custer, Laurel, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo. We also serve residents of Whatcom County Fire District 4 through a contract agreement. In 2023, we responded to 5,753 calls, of which 71 percent were for medical emergencies.

We operate under a balanced budget, have passed all financial and accountability audits by the state, and are debt-free.

How we fund emergency services

We fund fire and life safety services through a fire levy capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. In 2006, voters approved a fire levy rate of $1.42. Since then, it has dropped to $0.76 per $1,000.

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 plus one percent more per year. Even if property values double, we can only collect one percent more of the previous year’s revenue. This means that the levy rate falls as property values rise to limit our budget to the same amount of revenue per year plus that one 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 rate. This is known as a levy lid lift, and it helps us keep up with higher call volumes and costs to provide service.

Voters approved a fire levy rate of $1.42 in 2006. Since then, the rate has dropped to $0.76 while call volumes have almost doubled in the last 10 years. Emergency medical calls (EMS) have increased by 50 percent and now account for 71 percent of all calls. And overlapping calls (multiple emergencies at the same time) happen 30 percent of the time.

Why are we asking for a levy lid lift?

The one percent revenue increase is no longer adequate to meet the emergency services needs of our community. Additionally:

  • EMS calls have increased by 50 percent. Emergency personnel are unavailable for as long as two hours when transporting patients to St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham. This increases response times for other emergency calls during this time.
  • Daily train traffic delays our emergency response times including mutual aid from other agencies. We must be able to adequately staff our fire stations, respond to calls and rely less on mutual aid, which takes longer to reach people in an emergency.
  • Station 63 in Birch Bay needs to be replaced. We also need to replace a response unit for medical emergencies, ladder truck and three fire engines that have reached the end of their usable lives.

What will the levy lid lift fund?

Our revenue has not kept up with the demand for emergency services, inflation, and costs to provide service. We are considering asking voters for a levy lid lift in the August 2024 primary election. The Board of Fire Commissioners will make a final decision on the lid lift rate in early spring. The revenue from the lid lift would fund:

  • Up to eight emergency personnel over six years to respond to higher call volumes, adequately staff our fire stations, and put into service another response unit for medical emergencies
  • Emergency apparatus that have reached the end of their usable lives

We can pay for operational needs and most capital projects without asking for voter-approved debt, such as a bond, which costs taxpayers more in interest payments. The fire district can pay for these projects through its regular fire levy.

The lid lift would also help fund the replacement of Station 63 in Birch Bay (a bond may be needed to complete this project) to improve response times and service reliability in the area.

If approved by voters, this would be the first levy lid lift for the fire district in almost 20 years.

Fire Chief Jason Van Der Veen welcomes your questions at 360-318-9933 or jvanderveen@nwfrs.com.

 

PRESENTATION AVAILABLE
Fire Chief Jason Van Der Veen welcomes the opportunity to speak to local service organizations, community groups or homeowner associations. He can provide an overview of North Whatcom Fire and Rescue and answer any questions. Please contact him at jvanderveen@nwfrs.com.

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