South Whidbey Fire/EMS passed its independent audits for financial and accountability practices. The reports can be found on the Washington State Auditor’s website at www.sao.wa.gov/reports-data/audit-reports. The audit is required every two years, and this current report covers the Fire District’s practices from 2017-2018.
“We have a history of clean audits,” said Fire Chief Rusty Palmer. “It’s important that our taxpayers know we manage their tax dollars responsibly during times of economic uncertainty and always.”
South Whidbey Fire/EMS is asking voters to consider a Fire Levy lid lift of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value during the August 4 Primary Election. Chief Palmer says that the need for emergency services funding predates the pandemic by more than two years. If approved by voters, the lid lift will be used to hire up to eight additional full-time personnel to improve emergency response times, and replace aging apparatus (such as fire engines and medical vehicles).
A portion of the funds likely will go to backfill costs associated with COVID-19, as well. For example, the costs for hand sanitizer, disinfectant and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for firefighters have increased. The Fire District also is anticipating higher personnel costs due to overtime and temporary hires needed to respond to calls.
“We’ve always had volunteers responding to emergency calls. They are the backbone of our organization,” said Chief Palmer. “Some of our people are out on medical leave, however, due to underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of catching the virus.”
Prior to COVID-19, call volumes had increased 12 percent for the Fire District since 2014. The agency has communicated with the public about its staffing struggles, specifically that it lost 30 percent of its emergency responders during the last recession. With another recession likely, Chief Palmer says that the need to hire additional full-time firefighters is its first priority.
If the lid lift is approved by voters, the Fire Levy rate would change from 65 cents to 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. (By way of comparison, the Fire Levy rate for the Fire District was $1.00 in 1990.) The lid lift would last for six years and adjust based on the inflation rate, but could never exceed 95 cents per $1,000.
The additional cost would be approximately $10 per month for the owner of a $400,000 home. If passed in 2020, the lid lift would start being collected in the spring of 2021.
More information about the fire levy lid lift can be found on the website at www.swfe.org under “Public Information.” Community members with questions also are encouraged to contact Chief Rusty Palmer at 360-321-1533 or firstname.lastname@example.org.