North Whatcom Fire & Rescue | Fire Levy Lid Lift
North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Seeks Pro and Con Statements
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 1—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).