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Fire levy coming to South End voters | UPDATE

Commissioners of South Whidbey Fire/EMS Bob Elliot and Kenon Simmons sign the papers that will put a levy to a public vote in November.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Commissioners of South Whidbey Fire/EMS Bob Elliot and Kenon Simmons sign the papers that will put a levy to a public vote in November.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

FREELAND — South Whidbey voters soon will have their say about a 15-cent levy increase for South Whidbey Fire/EMS.

Commissioners from the fire protection district unanimously approved to put the levy measure on the November ballot.

“If we don’t act and do something, in a year or two we’re going to seriously be impacted in what we can do,” said Commissioner Kenon Simmons.

Fire Chief Rusty Palmer previously encouraged the levy increase to restore funding. Declining property values on the South End of Whidbey Island decreased the district’s revenue, while fixed costs like fuel and energy for the district’s six stations increased.

After months of public meetings and dozens of comments about the levy, the commissioners voted 3-0 in favor of sending the levy lift to a public vote. During the comment period, the voice of Langley resident Bob Walters persisted for alternative solutions to the fire district’s funding issues. He told the commissioners at the meeting Thursday, June 14 to look at general obligation bonds for buildings and other capital purchases.

“You should never build a building without general obligation (bonds),” Walters said.

The levy increase would bump the property tax to 76 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The new valuation would cost the owner of a $200,000 property $152 each year for fire protection and emergency medical services.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS is a debt-free district. For years, the commissioners had an aggressive cash reserve system that saved 25 percent of revenue for capital purchases like fire engines and facilities. That rate was reduced to 20 percent last year to help stem the revenue loss.

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