Fire district lumps years of taxes into one big one
of Tim Eymans Initiative 747, which restricts municipal
agencies from increasing their levies by more than one percent
without asking voters permission, fire district 13
will be increasing its levy by 18.9 percent for 2003.
In dollars, the fire district is asking for $1,032,000 from its Birch Bay, Custer and Haney taxpayers, up from $869,134 in 2001.
People are going to say wow, thats a big increase, said district 13 financial manager Kent McClelland. But theyve been getting a good deal for a long time.
McClelland said fire district 13 commissioners opted to not take its percentage increase allowed under the law for years, even before voters passed I-747 when the maximum levy increase was six percent. Over the last three years, district 13 hasnt taken an increase because they dont want to raise taxes, McClelland said. Now were in a situation where we need to.
We hadnt raised taxes in seven years, said fire district 13 commissioner Bill Salter. We dropped the tax rate three years ago.
But how does the fire district side-step I-747 and with it, voters consent? McClelland said that municipalities could bank whatever levy increases they did not take in years past and store them for future demands. The fire department made some big expenditures this year and they had to pay for them, McClelland said.
During the 2002 fiscal year fire district 13 spent nearly $514,000 on land for its new fire station in Blaine, medical insurance for its payrolled staff and to replace air tanks.
We get the majority of our taxes from district 13, Salter said. This year we simply had to do it (raise taxes).
Blaine residents, however, avoided increased rates for fire and emergency protection for 2003, despite district 13s own desire to increase the rate from $1.27 per $1,000 worth of property value to $1.36 per $1,000 worth of property value, the rate district 13 taxpayers will be paying for 2003. We still want to (raise the rate) next year, McClelland said.
Salter said tough financial times at the city of Blaine influenced the districts decision to not increase the rate to the city of Blaine. I talked to Gary and were going to waive it because they financially cant do it, Salter said.
According to McClellands explanation, rates will remain the same for Blaine this year because the fire district did not turn in its budget to the Whatcom County assessor and to the city of Blaine by the November 15 deadline. Fire district 13 sends the city of Blaine a bill for its fire and emergency protection services twice a year as opposed to collecting money through a levy as it does in the district. As a result of this agreement between the two agencies, the city of Blaines budget adjusts according to the bill it receives from fire district 13. In order for the city of Blaine to adjust its budget, fire district 13 or any other agency that gives the city of Blaine a bill would have to turn in its own budget before November 15, when all municipalities budgets are due.
Fire district 13s homework was simply late. Because of unusual circumstances, our budget is running way behind, McClelland said. Unusual circumstances like Mike Campbells unpaid administrative leave status have especially affected the budget, he said, because one of Campbells paramount duties was the budget.
The status of the budget doesnt throw the fire district into any immediate bureaucratic peril, however. I always have a number of districts that call in late, said Whatcom County assessor Keith Willnauer. They wouldnt be in trouble with me.
McClelland said the fire district cant turn in its final budget to the Whatcom County assessor until it gives NWFRS its levy amount and assessed valuation for district 13, which wont happen until the first week in January. We dont know exactly what we will have coming in until after the first of the year, Salter said..