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South Whidbey Fire/EMS expecting small drop in revenue, may cut capital fund

Tim Leonard cleans one of the engine compartments of the 32-foot catamaran for South Whidbey Fire/EMS.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Tim Leonard cleans one of the engine compartments of the 32-foot catamaran for South Whidbey Fire/EMS.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

An adopted levy lift in 2012 staved off serious revenue declines, but South Whidbey Fire/EMS is still expecting a smaller intake from property taxes in 2014.

Fire district documents show 2014 assessed valuation  in the district to be about $2.75 million, about a $1,200 drop from the 2013 assessed valuation. Commissioners for South Whidbey Fire/EMS will meet and discuss the budget at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Freeland station.

“Without the levy increase, (revenue) would have been down significantly,” according to Fire Chief Rusty Palmer.

Voters approved a 15-cent increase for South Whidbey Fire/EMS in November 2012. Property owners within the fire district’s boundaries pay 76 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation — about $152 for a $200,000 property.

Facing a small budget shortfall, Palmer said the district is looking at reducing its long-held capital fund policy. For several decades, the fire district has squirreled away 25 percent of its revenue into its capital fund. The idea is to aggressively save in case a fire engine breaks down and a new one is needed.

In recent years, as property values dipped, South Whidbey Fire/EMS revenue decreased with it. That made saving 25 percent untenable a few years ago, and commissioners voted to change it to 20 percent for a year.

Palmer said commissioners may be asked, once again, to reduce its capital fund percentage to cover the fire district’s operational expenses.

“The good news is we’re a needs-based budget and we’re not spending any more than we need to,” Palmer said.

No employee positions are expected to be cut. 

One pressing issue in the district’s draft budget for 2014 is its capital requests expense. The district is projecting almost $1,488,000 of expense in capital requests, about $353,000 more than 2013. Of that figure, $1.3 million is speculative as the district considers constructing a new administration building in the Bayview area near Bayview School and Good Cheer Food Bank.

“I have no idea whether they’re going to do that,” Palmer said of the commissioners.

Currently, the district is projecting to move $685,000 of its revenue into the capital fund based on the 25 percent policy. At a lowered amount of 20 percent, the district would have about $550,400 for capital reserve and would have another $130,000 for its operations.

“Our real challenge is going to be capital over the coming years,” said Palmer of a couple of the district’s fire engines. “We need to purchase these high-dollar things.”

Grant funding in 2014 will almost vanish from South Whidbey Fire/EMS. In 2013, the district received about $830,000 in grants, with about $500,000 of it going toward the new marine response vessel being built by North Cross Aluminum in Freeland. About $200,000 paid for the district’s radio upgrades. The remaining grant funds for 2014 will pay for the district-wide emergency address sign installation — reflective blue roadside markers.

Palmer said district did not apply for any grant funding in 2014, but will likely look at some for the 2015 budget.

“We’re giving ourselves a break from the grants this year,” he said.

Salary expenses are taking a small hit of about 2 percent, a total of $21,700 across the district, with the loss of a full-time sign technician.

The draft budget shows the district ending 2014 with about $36,600 in its end-of-year operations savings, a major decrease from 2013 when it ended with about $282,200.

 

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