Merging Valley Fire Districts Seek Nearly 20 Cent Tax Rate Increase

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WENATCHEE – Wenatchee Valley residents will vote in August on whether to create a regional fire authority, combining Chelan County Fire District 1 and Douglas County Fire District 2 into one department regional fire.

Meanwhile, a ballot measure will seek approval for property tax rates of $1.50 per $1,000 of property value — an average increase of 19.5 cents for the two districts. Homeowners in the Chelan County District, which covers Wenatchee, Malaga and Sunnyslope, currently pay just over $1.32 per $1,000; in Douglas County Fire District 2, which includes East Wenatchee and Rock Island, it’s $1.29.

The elected commissioners of the two fire districts unanimously approved a merger plan on April 26. Chelan County Fire District 1 Chief Brian Brett oversaw both departments for the past year prior to the proposed merger. He joined Chelan County commissioners on Tuesday morning to explain the need for the funding.

“The reason for the increase in funding is that our growth has increased by 45% over the last five years in EAV (Equalized Assessed Assessment); our demand for services has increased by 37% over the past five years; and our volunteer ranks on both sides (of the Columbia River) are down 70 percent,” Brett told county commissioners. “And it’s a national, state and local trend. We are not an anomaly.

While joining two districts would save money on administration and facilities costs, Brett said, the new regional authority would need to hire eight new firefighters, bolster its aerial response and budget for maintenance and replacement of the vehicle fleet. These steps follow the pattern set by the 2015 annexation of the former Wenatchee Fire Department, which was absorbed into Chelan County Fire District 1 with 92% voter approval.

The tax funding request is a “lid lifter” on the two districts’ levies, in which voters are asked to temporarily remove the statutory cap on a levy increase. The $1.50 fares wouldn’t be in place for more than five years, Brett said — again, similar to the fares approved in the Wenatchee Fire Department’s annexation vote.

“We need to guarantee a minimum level of Rock Island service throughout the Valley, so we’ll hire people to do that, and supplement that with our volunteer program,” Brett said.

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