Firedistrict to appeal decision to superior court

Published on Thu, Oct 5, 2006 by ara Nelson and Jack Kintner

Read More News

Fire district to appeal decision to superior court

By Tara Nelson and Jack Kintner

More staffing and resources are needed if fire district 13 is to bring service up to standard levels required by the state, fire commissioners and residents agreed Monday. But where the district will find funding to meet those requirements is still in question.

At an October 2 meeting at the American Legion Hall in Birch Bay, fire chief Tom Fields told residents the district has had financial difficulty since 2001 when Washington voters passed I-747, which capped property tax increases at 1 percent, resulting in the district’s inability to hire adequate staff.

This, he said, is partly responsible for district’s average response time of 10.5 minutes in 2006, well above the urban standard of four to six minutes.

The problem, he said is exacerbated by an additional 22 housing developments planned for the Birch Bay and Blaine area.

Several audience members agreed the majority of the cost should of services for new residents should be borne by the developers such as Fred Bovenkamp, whose Horizons Village and Horizons at Semiahmoo projects are expected to contribute 646 new homes to the area.

“Don’t kill us people who live here just so you can service the new residents,” one unidentified man said. “If you want to build this project, then add a fire station. It’s not hard.”

In May, Bovenkamp had informally agreed to pay a voluntary mitigation fee to help with increased costs his development would impose on district 13 but later retracted his statement based on the $2,500-per-living unit fee suggested by commissioners.

Other audience members blamed Whatcom County Council for not imposing mitigation fees for fire services and were visibly angry that council members approved Bovenkamp’s developments in September without a plan to improve fire services.

The Washington State Growth Management Act dictates that infrastructure and services must be improved in concurrence with development. Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner, who attended the meeting along with council member Carl Weimer, said because fire districts are a state political entity, the county has no authority to impose such fees. She added that even the strongest concurrency laws wouldn’t equal the revenues the district lost after I-747. “The real issue is they used to bring in a lot more money through license tabs and when Tim Eyeman’s initiative went through, so every year they started losing money,” she said. “It’s finally catching up to them.”

Brenner said the county may have been able to legally deny the project through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) based on concurrency if the district had completed a capital improvement plan. “We can’t just do that because the fire district tells us,” she said. “We have to base it on a plan that has numbers that back up what they’re saying and they don’t have that.”

District commissioners Wednesday voted to appeal the council’s decision to Whatcom County Superior Court.