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Fire Levy

What we do

We provide fire and life safety services to people on Whidbey Island south of Mutiny Bay Road. We serve approximately 15,000 residents and 10,000 visitors and 533 businesses over 66 square miles. We rely on full-time and volunteer emergency personnel who respond to an average of 2,600 calls per year. 

Our firefighters and EMTs are highly trained to provide the following services:

  • Educating you on how to prevent fires
  • Putting out fires when they occur
  • Responding rapidly to vehicle accidents 
  • Serving you with first response medical services
  • Providing marine and cliff side rescue services 
  • Responding to hazardous material spills
  • Serving you with life safety education programs 

We operate under a balanced budget and have passed all financial and accountability audits by the state. 

How do we fund emergency services? 

Our daily operations are funded by a fire levy. In 2021, voters approved a fire levy rate of $0.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Since then, the rate has dropped to $0.81.

Why did the levy rate drop?

Each year we are allowed to collect a set amount of revenue. State law limits us to that amount plus a small annual increase approved by voters. Our revenue does not increase at the same rate as property values. This means the fire levy rate falls as property values rise to limit our budget to the approved amount each year. 

This is called “levy compression” and impacts our ability to provide emergency services.

What is a fire levy lid lift?

From time to time, we must ask voters to reset our fire levy. This is known as a levy lid lift, and it helps us keep up with higher call volumes and costs to provide service. Voters approved a fire levy rate of $0.95 in 2021. Since then, the rate has dropped to $0.81. We rely on full-time and volunteer personnel. Fire districts like ours and across the nation are struggling to recruit and retain volunteers. Our community requires full-time personnel to respond to emergencies.

Additionally, some of our apparatus have reached the end of their usable lives. We aggressively maintain our fire engines and emergency equipment, but parts for our fire engines that date back to the 1990s cannot be found. 

We are considering asking voters for a $0.39 lid lift to reset the fire levy rate from $0.81 to $1.20 sometime in 2024. The public will get a chance to provide comments before a final decision is made by the Board of Fire Commissioners to place a measure on the ballot. 

What will the lid lift fund?

  • Two more firefighters per day to reduce response times for fire and EMS calls to 10 minutes or less on average. Our current response time is 15 minutes on average, which is a concern. Every minute counts to improve outcomes for fire and medical emergencies.
  • Staffing at a third station in the southeast part of the district to decrease the amount of time it takes to arrive on scene by an average of five minutes.
  • Firefighter training programs to ensure high quality emergency services.
  • Replacement of aging fire engines and equipment/apparatus to ensure service reliability when responding to calls.

We want to pay cash for the capital items instead of borrowing money through a bond, which costs taxpayers more in interest payments.

What will this cost?*

The $0.39 lid lift would cost the owner of a $600,000 home an additional $19.50 per month.--


Fire Chief Nick Walsh welcomes your questions at chief@swfe.org or 360-321-1533. 

*Homeowners who are 61 years or older and others who meet income and eligibility requirements may qualify for a property tax exemption. Contact the Island County Assessor at 360-679-7303 or online at www.islandcountywa.gov/269/Exemptions to see if you qualify.

 

PRESENTATION AVAILABLE

Fire Chief Nick Walsh welcomes the opportunity to speak to local service organizations, community groups or homeowner associations. He can provide an overview of South Whidbey Fire and Rescue and answer any questions. Please contact Chief Walsh at chief@swfe.org to schedule a visit with your group.

Media Releases

South Whidbey Fire/EMS adopts 2024 budget - January 31, 2024

Letter to the Editor - January 30, 2024 

South Whidbey Fire/EMS facing service challenges - January 2, 2024

In the News

South Whidbey Fire asking voters to approve tax increase for staffing, equipment - KING 5 TV - January 5, 2024

South Whidbey Fire/EMS proposes levy lid lift - Whidbey News-Times - January 9, 2024

 More Information

SWFE Newsletter - Fall-Winter 2023 PRESS.pdf

 

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