Fire Levy Renewal FAQ (Nov. 2024)


San Juan County Fire Protection District No.3 is the only all-hazards emergency services provider protecting San Juan Island including Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor, and surrounding inhabited islands including; Brown Island, Dinner Island, Henry Island, Pearl Island, Stuart Island, Johns Island, Cactus Island, Spieden Island, and O’Neil Island. Under current service deployment strategies, the fire district will respond to about five hundred emergencies this year, which constitutes about a 120% increase in emergency calls compared to 2004.

Currently, nine Full Time Equivalent (FTE) career firefighters, augmented by fifty dedicated volunteer firefighters and support members, provide a full spectrum of fire and life safety response from one 24/7 staffed station and five satellite stations. Regular work week firefighter staffing including the Chief, are four staff members and one shift officer or fire fighter. During any given 24-hour period, one career firefighter and one career duty officer are on duty to respond to and manage emergency calls from the fire district’s 9,000 year-round residents which rise to about 15,000 during the fair-weather season. A full-time executive assistant performs various administrative functions including bills and payroll, auditing reports, reception, human resources, and other administrative activities in support to the Chief.

Emergency services include fire suppression, hazardous materials response, rescue response, medical aid, fire cause and determination, and support of local law enforcement for search and rescue and body recovery. The fire district operates the only fire boat in the county which is outfitted for fire response, search and rescue, and medical transport. The fire district also assists, through mutual aid, other emergency agencies including the Sheriff’s Office, the Hospital District No. 1 Emergency Medical Services, Lopez Fire & EMS, Orcas Fire & Rescue, Shaw Fire & Rescue, and county-wide unprotected areas for Washington State DNR.

In addition to providing emergency services, the fire district is focused on fostering its relationship with the community through various and consistent public interaction, support, outreach, national holiday, and prevention activities. All activities prioritize fire and life safety programs which are inclusive to all ages including; fire safety strategies for children and families, fire extinguisher training, smoke alarm assistance, Knox key secure program, smoke investigations, burn pile complaints, open house and group station tours, and wildfire education preparedness, and business fire & life safety inspections.

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What’s on my election ballot?

Fire District #3 is asking voters to restore its regular fire levy to $0.70 per $1,000 assessed valuation. This is called a levy lid lift. The current fire levy has fallen to less than $0.30 per $1,000 assessed value. The Fire District has never asked for a levy lid lift.

The levy lid lift will be listed as Proposition 1 on your ballot in November.

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Have voters approved a fire levy lid lift in the past?

The regular fire levy is not a new tax and is based on the original levy. Voters set the base regular fire levy to $1.42 per $1,000 assessed value in 1963. The maximum allowable regular levy for fire districts is $1.50.

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Why do fire levies drop?

As property values increase, the regular fire levy rate reduces according to the limit factor, which results in the tax levy rate being lowered from its previously authorized amount to align with the total amount of dollars collected. This is called rate compression. As a result of the general, state-mandated limit factor of 1%, fire districts are allowed a 1% revenue increase per year, not including new construction. However, that 1% increase very rarely keeps up with increased costs to provide emergency services.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA region, has increased by 21% over the past four years alone (2020-2023). A 20-year review shows an annual inflation average increase of about 3.2%. The cost of delivering effective emergency services has significantly outpaced the Fire District’s tax revenue limit.

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Why is San Juan County Fire District No. 3 asking for this levy lid lift?

Fire District No. 3 recently completed a planning process. During the process, fire commissioners, community participants, staff, and fire district members identified the following areas as weaknesses of the fire district:

  • Depleted reserve funds
  • No capital funds
  • Strategically challenging fire station locations
  • Insufficient staffing levels for initial structure fire response
  • No training facilities
  • Aging fleet
  • Outdated and poor functioning facilities
  • Increasing deferred maintenance
  • Ongoing Fire Insurance Ratings challenges

Additionally, community participants and fire district members identified areas of opportunity for the fire district. Opportunities included improved incentives for volunteer firefighters, maintaining high quality, dependable, and effective response apparatus fleet, addressing unstaffed and out of service fire stations, and expanding fire district services to best serve the entire community.

San Juan County Fire District No. 3 is currently operating within the constraints of its existing budget. The fire district has been significantly outpaced by growth, complexity, demographic challenges, and inflation.

For any given 24-hour period, minimally only one firefighter and one duty officer are response ready. Volunteers and off duty employees respond to emergencies when available.

Additional challenges include:

  • Not meeting minimum response standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association which directly impact the outcomes of incidents.
  • Not meeting WA Administrative Code for 2 firefighters-in & 2 firefighters-out during initial attack fire suppression placing the public and our firefighters at further risk.
  • Aging response vehicles – district fire engines are on average 19 years old
  • Aging, unstaffed and out-of-service fire stations – Most stations are sized too small for modern fire engines, do not have basic plumbing and sewage, and are in communities that have increasingly fewer volunteers who will commit to certifying as a fire fighter.
  • Meeting the current and future needs of the community which is remote access and does not have the benefit of surrounding fire districts like most communities on the “mainland”.

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What will this cost?

If approved by voters, the levy lid lift will restore the regular fire levy to $0.70 per $1,000 assessed value which would be approximately an additional $0.40 per $1,000 assessed value compared to the 2023 assessment. This equates to approximately $25 more per month for the owner of a $750,000 home.

Assessed Value2024 Levy Amount
($0.30 per $1,000 AV)
2025 Levy Request
($0.70 per $1,000 AV)
Monthly Diff
Home Valued at $400,000$120$280$13.33
Home Valued at $500,000$150$350$16.67
Home Valued at $600,000$180$420$20.00
Home Valued at $700,000$210$490$23.33
Home Valued at $800,000$240$560$26.67
Home Valued at $900,000$270$630$30.00
Home Valued at $1,000,000$300$700$33.33
Home Valued at $1,250,000$375$875$72.92

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What will you do with the additional revenue?

If voters approve the levy lid lift, the additional funding will be used to:

  1. Return to 2023 staffing levels and once funding is available, increase career and volunteer staffing to a minimum equivalent of three full time firefighters per 24-hour shift. This would guarantee immediate response of three firefighters on an engine at the Mullis Street Headquarters Fire Station, and with a duty officer will ensure capability of an immediate interior fire suppression response by meeting firefighter safety standards under the WAC 296-305 requirement for 2-in 2-out. In addition, having full-time firefighters and geographically positioned volunteer fire fighters helps the Fire District’s periodic assessments from Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau (WSRB) to maintain good protection class ratings. Insurance companies use WSRB ratings to calculate homeowners’ insurance rates. Poor ratings can result in high premiums, or loss of underwriting.
  2. Maintain and invest in fire stations. Fire District No. 3 currently operates one staffed fire station, five unstaffed fire stations, and various equipment caches on outer islands. Most of the stations are deficient for size of fire engines, earthquake and storm resistance, firefighter cancer protections, firefighter decontamination facilities, and basic sanitary needs and resident occupancy. Upgrading fire stations will attract and support improved services.
  3. Construct training facilities. Building a training facility will improve firefighter training through convenient access, consistent objectives, and logistical efficiency. Training facilities contribute to maintain good protection class ratings as assessed by the Washington Survey and Ratings Bureau.
  4. Establish and sustain capital funds for ongoing fleet refurbishment and replacement. Various specialized fleet require periodic upgrades and eventual replacements to ensure effectiveness and maintain insurance-rating standards.
  5. Establish and sustain a reserve fund that can sustain operations and maintenance or provide immediate purchasing power in case of catastrophic losses. A reserve fund is a buffer for unanticipated economic challenges. The fire district should have enough funds to maintain basic services in case of emergency needs.

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What happens if the fire levy lid lift does not pass?

If voters do not pass the levy lid lift during the November 2024 general election, the regular fire levy will continue compression to a level that would further impact our ability to maintain delivery of already strained all hazard emergency services. Annual CPI looks to be landing slightly higher than the long-term average for another year, which compounds the challenges left with the 1% limit factor. The compression in funding will continue to restrict Fire District No. 3’s ability to provide effective staffing and response times, while hampering the district’s ability to maintain and replace capital facilities and equipment.

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Where can I find more information?

Fire Chief Noel Monin welcomes your questions and is available during regular business hours by phone at 360-378-5334. In addition, you may also request a presentation from Chief Monin for your community group by calling Chief Monin at the same number.

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