North Whatcom fire district set to OK 2012 budget

Published on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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North Whatcom Fire and Rescue commissioners are one meeting away from approving the fire district’s budget but must wait until property values from the Whatcom County Assessor come in to move forward.

The board of fire commissioners hopes to approve the 2012 budget at its December 15 meeting, but might have to wait until after Christmas for assessed property values to come in from the county, fire chief Tom Fields said. If the values come in after December 25, the board will call a special meeting to approve the budget on December 26, 27 or 28, Fields said.

For 2012, the district expects to take in about $7.5 million in total revenue and spend about $7.1 million.

The district expects to collect approximately $5.3 million in property taxes, which have decreased by $300,000 since last year. The 2012 budget includes $1.9 million in carryover from 2011 to 2012 for funding the district until the first property taxes are collected in April, Fields said.

Fields said the budget has not changed much since 2011, but each division within the district has been asked to cut its individual budget by 2.5 percent. The district’s union-represented firefighters will receive a 2 percent pay increase while one administrative staff person will be laid off.

The district is having little trouble paying day-to-day operating costs, but Fields said saving tax revenue for future capital improvements is proving difficult. For example, money needs to be put aside for the eventual replacement of the district’s ambulances, but decreases in property tax revenue are preventing this.

The district replaced one ambulance each year in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the next replacement is scheduled for 2016, Fields said. The district staggered the replacements on purpose so all three ambulances would not have to be replaced at once. The district’s ambulances typically rack up 25,000 miles per year and can cost between $135,000 and $190,000 to replace.

The district board of commissioners’ next regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on December 15 at the Blaine fire station, 9408 Odell Road. For updates on special meetings, check the district’s website at www.nwfrs.net.