Perused your ballot yet? There’s likely a bond or levy initiative on it to fund fire departments or emergency medical services.
At least seven agencies in the Lewis County and south Thurston County areas will be going to voters for funding crucial to sustaining operations, replacing equipment and, in one case, replacing a fire station.
Bonds are debts that the department withdraws in order to pay for capital projects. Levies are property taxes generally assessed on a rate per $1,000 of assessed value, and usually fund operations and salaries.
Ballots were mailed out to voters the week of July 19. Ballots must be postmarked or returned to one of the Lewis or Thurston county ballot drop boxes by Aug. 3. Updating voter registration and registering to vote can be done up until 8 p.m. the day of election at your local county auditor’s office.
Not all voters in Lewis or Thurston counties will receive a ballot this election. For more information, reach out to your local auditor’s office.
Chehalis EMS Levy Replacement
The Chehalis Fire Department, which serves the city limits, is looking to restore its previous levy rate of 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value. Its current rate, which has depreciated over the years from the original 50 cents, taxes about 35 cents per $1,000 assessed, said Fire Chief Tedd Hendershot.
If passed, this levy would go into effect next year and expire in 2027.
New funds collected will be used to cover salaries, overtime and benefits for two of its firefighter-EMTs, as well as retaining its current services, Hendershot said.
“The city manager said that if the levy doesn’t pass we’ll have to reduce staffing by two,” he told The Chronicle.
The Chehalis Fire Department has responded to about 1,100 calls so far this year. The department has seen a 14% increase in the number of calls they’ve responded to when compared with volumes this time last year.
“The irony of it all is about 95% of our call volume is medical,” Hendershot said.
The department is currently responding to around 60 calls per week.
The department is also currently running three firefighters on 24-hour shifts. If the levy fails, Hendershot said they would have to reduce their shifts down to two firefighters per day. Ten career firefighters are currently employed by the city.
Toledo Fire Levy
The Toledo Fire Department, also known as Lewis County Fire District 2, is looking to replace its current levy at the same rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value through the end of 2027.
Onalaska Fire Levy
The Onalaska Fire Department, also known as Lewis County Fire District 1, is asking voters to approve a levy lid lift proposition to increase the fire district’s property tax levy 75 cents, from 60 cents to $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value. If passed, the increase would go into effect next year.
“The board of fire commissioners has determined that the continued operation and maintenance of fire services, equipment and facilities of the district and the increased demands and costs of providing fire protection and emergency medical services to the greater Onalaska community require the expenditure of revenues in excess of the current limit,” reads the fire district’s explanatory statement for the ballot measure.
For a home that is valued at $200,000, the estimated increase would equal roughly $12.50 per month, according to the fire department.
If passed, the new levy rate would be used to calculate subsequent levy limits, said the fire department.
Napavine Fire Levy
Lewis County Fire District 5, which covers 65 square miles in and around the community of Napavine, is asking voters to approve a 66-cent increase to its levy, increasing the district’s levy from 62 cents to $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Additionally, the district is asking voters to set the limit factor increase for 2023 through 2027 at 106%.
If approved, the levy increase would go into effect next year and expire in 2027. The 2027 levy rate would be used to calculate subsequent levies.
“The growth of the district is apparent and is forecasted to continue in the future,” said District 5 in the explanatory statement submitted to Lewis County alongside the levy proposal. “To meet the demands for adequate fire protection operations, staffing, equipment and maintenance, Lewis County Fire District 5 will need additional revenue to provide operational capabilities to the increasing number of homes and businesses added to the fire district.
District 5 calculated that a home valued at $200,000, the increase would equal roughly $118.78 annually.
Winlock Fire and EMS Levy
Lewis County Fire District 15, which covers 42 square miles in and around the city of Winlock, is seeking to pass a single-year permanent levy lid lift to increase its levy rate from 73 cents to $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed value.
If passed, the increase would go into effect next year.
“Population from within the Winlock city limits alone show it has grown from 1,315 residents per the 2010 census to 1,791 per the 2019 census, and this does not count the population in the rural areas of the district,” reads the proposition statement. “The funds will maintain and improve fire protection, emergency medical services and facilities, replace apparatus and equipment, and provide for firefighter safety.”
South Thurston Bond to Construct New Headquarters
South Thurston Fire and EMS will be asking voters to approve a new bond measure of 37 cents per $1,000 assessed property value in order to build a new headquarters station, likely within Tenino city limits, as well as replace aging fire and ambulance vehicles and firefighting protective gear.
In total, the bond would collect $5.7 million and be repaid over a 20-year period.
“Our headquarter station, located in downtown Tenino, is a 7,400-square foot building that was built in 1961,” reads information on the department’s website. “The building has gone through additions and remodels three different times in the last 50 years. The building was never intended to accommodate 24-hour firefighters plus administration staff.”
Firefighters currently use a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house located across the street as sleeping quarters. South Thurston is proposing building a structure that’s nearly twice the square footage as the combined house and station.
With bond dollars, the station also plans on setting up quarters at Station 42, in Gibson Valley, to staff the station periodically.
The department’s newest ambulance is a 2008 model acquired through Thurston County Medic One.
The department has also secured more than $564,000 in grants to help soften the financial blow of the bond.
In addition to its 24/7 headquarter station, South Thurston also staffs three volunteer stations, according to its website.
Thurston County-Medic One Levy Lid Lift
Thurston County is hoping voters will pass a levy lid lift to increase the Medic One county tax from 28.9 to 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. If passed, this increase would go into effect next year.
The total increase would be about 21 cents per $1,000 assessed over a six-year period, if passed, which would be used to continue serving the ever-growing county.
“This restores the increase approved by voters in 1999 and represents an incremental increase of approximately 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over the 2021 levy,” reads the proposition statement. “The county’s maximum regular tax levy allocated for Medic One in each of the year 2023 through 2027 would be computed by applying a limit factor of 107% each year or an increase of approximately 3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value per year.
This measure would only affect taxpayers residing in Thurston County. Taxpayers who qualify for senior, disabled or veteran exemptions could be exempt from this levy increase, if passed.
In an informational video, Thurston County Emergency Services Director Kurt Hardin said Medic One pays for all county-owned equipment and supplies, and 80% of advanced life support paramedic salaries are supported by Medic One.
Medic One has experienced an increase in costs in recent years due to increasing cost to treat patients, increase in call volumes and the county’s increasing population. Hardin said if the ballot measure fails, the county would have to defer replacing medical equipment, defer deployment of an eighth medic unit, and reduce financial support to fire departments for training and employing EMTs.
For a home valued at $300,000, which was taxed $87 at the current Medic One levy, the increase at the end of the sixth year would be an additional $63, if passed.