North Whatcom Fire and Rescue to hold hearing on levy proposal

Public hearing set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 6


North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) is holding a public hearing on a proposal to put a fire levy lid lift on the August primary election ballots at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 6. If approved, this would be the district’s first levy increase in nearly 20 years.

The NWFR Board of Fire Commissioners will hold the hearing at Station 61, 9408 Odell Road in Blaine, and remotely on Zoom. The Zoom link is expected to be posted on the NWFR website ahead of the meeting.

The district proposes increasing the levy, which pays for daily operations and construction projects, by $0.34 per $1,000 of assessed property value, from $0.76 to $1.10 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The levy lid lift would cost the owner of a $500,000 home about $14.16 more per month, or $170 more annually, according to the fire district.

After hearing public testimony, fire commissioners will vote on whether to include the levy proposal in the August primary election during their next regular board meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 21 at the Blaine station.

NWFR chief Jason Van Der Veen and fire commissioners have repeatedly said over the past few years that the amount the district collects in property taxes is not keeping up with increased costs, pushing the district into a tough financial situation that could lead to reduced services, longer response times and potentially losing firefighters not being paid at the market rate.

“We’re trying to do more with less but our levy rate has just become unsustainable,” he said. “In order for us to maintain services, we’ll need to increase our levy.”

In addition to rising expenses, NWFR call volumes have nearly doubled the past 10 years, with overlapping calls occurring 30 percent of the time. In 2023, NWFR responded to over 5,750 calls, 71 percent of which were EMS.

Just over half of the district’s budget relies on tax revenue, or about $6.9 million in 2024, Van Der Veen said.

The levy increase would prioritize funding up to eight emergency personnel over six years, who would assist with the higher call volumes, staffing requirements and service a 24-hour ambulance at Station 62 in Semiahmoo. The extra funds would replace a ladder truck and three engines at the end of their lifespans.

If approved, NWFR is also considering using the levy lid lift to provide initial funding to replace Station 63 in Birch Bay, the district’s busiest station. The Birch Bay station needs to be replaced regardless of the levy passing, Van Der Veen said, adding that NWFR would likely put a bond on ballots in early 2025 if voters reject the levy.

Among problems for the Birch Bay station, Van Der Veen said the roof needs replacement, it requires ADA accessibility upgrades, the building doesn’t meet seismic requirements, and firefighter living quarters are next to the apparatus area with diesel fumes.

“If the levy doesn’t pass, we may have to vacate Station 63 and find other places to house our crews,” he said. “It would only be if the levy doesn’t pass and there’s no way for us to fund its replacement … We have to get our crews out of that station. It can’t be remodeled.”

While NWFR has been able to maintain a balanced budget, Van Der Veen said the district anticipates using $800,000 in reserves to support daily operations in 2024. The district’s 2024 budget is about $12.5 million and, as of January 2024, the district has about $5.4 million in unrestricted reserves.

“This is not sustainable and why we’re considering asking voters for a fire levy lid lift in the August primary,” Van Der Veen wrote in a release on the levy proposal.

NWFR announced last November it was considering the levy increase. This will be the first time the district has put a levy lid lift on ballots since voters rejected the levy increase in both the August and November 2021 elections.

“The district didn’t do a good job telling the voters what our challenges have been,” Van Der Veen said. “We’ve been making it work for way too long.”

NWFR services 33,800 people across 156 square miles, which includes Blaine, Birch Bay, Custer, Lynden and Laurel. The district is also contracted to serve Whatcom County Fire District 4, along northeast Lake Whatcom.

Van Der Veen said people with additional questions may call 360/318-9933 or email him at

Correction: This article was updated February 29  to correct the date of NWFR's public hearing on its levy lid lift proposal. We regret the error. 


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