April 24, 2020

Measure Will Be on August Primary Election Ballot

The Board of Fire Commissioners for South Whidbey Fire/EMS passed a resolution asking voters to consider a 30-cent fire levy lid lift during the August 4 Primary Election. If approved, funding would be used to hire emergency personnel, replace apparatus, and backfill costs associated with COVID-19.

“Our fire district identified the need for additional personnel and replacement apparatus two years ago,” said Fire Chief H.L. “Rusty” Palmer. “The fact now is that funding also will help our community pay costs associated with the pandemic. The request is timely.”

The costs for hand sanitizer, disinfectant and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for firefighters all have increased. The Fire District also is anticipating higher personnel costs due to overtime and temporary hires needed to respond to calls.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS has been transparent in its struggles when it comes to staffing. Call volumes have increased 12 percent for the Fire District since 2014. Historically, it has relied on volunteers to respond to calls. During the last recession, it lost 30 percent of its emergency responders. It has worked to build its volunteer base back since then, but the pandemic has caused the loss of multiple volunteers due to underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.

“It may feel like we take one step forward and two steps back – but we’re still standing!” said Chief Palmer. “We are here, ready to respond when you need us, and coordinating with other agencies on Whidbey Island to provide the highest level of care.”

Chief Palmer also wants the community to know that COVID-19 is not a majority of its cases at this time. The Fire District continues to respond to brush, residential and commercial fires, and technical rescues for people who ignore the stay at home order. It also has seen an increase in “slip and fall” calls for those who are staying at home.

“We respond to all emergencies, all the time. A pandemic doesn’t change that. Call us if you have an emergency,” said Chief Palmer.

If approved by voters in August, the 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 not exceed 95 cents per $1,000. The 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 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 chief@swfe.org.