Fire district facing service challenges

By on Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 in Columbia Basin News More Top Stories

BURBANK – Walla Walla County Fire District No. 5 in Burbank will ask voters to approve raising the fire levy in November.

“We have tried to recruit more volunteers by increasing compensation without success,” Fire Chief Mike Wickstrom said. “Our call volumes have reached a point where we simply cannot attract and retain enough volunteers to respond.”

The fire district has been able to operate efficiently for 30 years without having to raise its levy rate, but Wickstrom said that is no longer an option. Funding is required to meet the emergency service needs of the community.

Thirty years ago, voters approved a fire levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Since then, the rate has dropped to $1.14 because the fire district is allowed to collect a set amount of revenue annually. State law limits the fire district to that same amount plus one percent more per year. Even if property values double, the fire district can only collect one percent more.

Wickstrom said the fire district also collects some revenue from new construction but that is not nearly enough to replace fire levy funding. In 2022, the fire district received just $60,000 from new construction. In November, the fire district will ask voters to raise the levy to $1.38. It would cost an owner of a $350,000 home $84 per year or $7 a month.

Wickstrom said that the levy, if approved by voters, would pay for up to four additional firefighters, station renovations, and equipment replacement. He believes the fire district can fund these projects through the fire levy instead of borrowing money, which costs taxpayers more in interest payments.