The Camano Island Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to place a regular property tax levy request on the ballot in August 2022.
The ballot measure asks voters to reauthorize a levy rate of $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value – the same rate voters approved in 2018. Renewing at this rate would cost the owner of a $500,000 home approximately $155 more next year.
The fire levy represents approximately 58% of Camano Fire’s annual budget and must be regularly renewed to ensure the department can maintain its quality of service and response readiness.
“Since 2018, our call volume has gone up significantly,” said Chief Levon Yengoyan. “We’re responding to 37% more calls with nearly the same number of firefighters. The cost to provide these services is also increasing, particularly fuel, equipment, and supplies.”
When do ballots arrive?
Ballots should be mailed by July 15 according to the Island County Auditor.
When is the election?
Ballots must be postmarked or returned by Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.
What does the Regular Levy pay for?
The Regular Levy funds everything we do. It pays for firefighters and paramedics, maintenance on our vehicles, fire and safety inspections, training – including marine and rope rescue training, our Community Resource Paramedic, upkeep of our facilities, and more.
My property values went up. Aren’t you getting more money?
The short answer: Not necessarily, no. When voters approve a levy rate, it establishes a set amount we can collect each year. This levy re-establishes the rate approved in 2018 and allows for only a 5% increase each year for 5 years, even if your property values double.
The longer answer: When voters approved the $1.35 rate in 2018, it created a set amount (call it $100) we could legally collect. The next year, we could legally only collect $100 + a small percent increase (say $101). If property values double, the levy rate you pay goes actually goes down. Instead of remaining at $1.35, it might decrease to $1.10 or $1.04. The levy rate goes down because state law prevents us from collecting any more than $101. If we applied $1.35 to the value of your house every year, it would violate state law because we’d be collecting more than the law allows.
On this ballot, we are asking voters to approve the $1.35 rate again. This would create a new set amount that we could legally collect. Each year, we could only collect that set amount + a 5% increase each year for 5 years. Here’s how that could look:
- In the first year we would collect the new set rate (Let’s call it $150).
- In the second year, regardless of property value change, we could only collect the set rate ($150) +5%. So $157.50.
- In the third year, we could only collect 5% more than the second year ($157.50 + 5%). So $163.37. And so on and so forth.
- After five years, the rate would decrease to a 1% increase over the set rate.
What do firefighters do other than respond to calls?
Responding to calls is only part of our job. We train regularly on skills like marine rescue, rope rescue, vehicle extrication, and more. We also respond to weather emergencies like downed trees. Our crews perform regular fire and safety inspections on businesses around the island. We participate in community events like National Night Out to share fire safety and preparedness information with local children and families. Our firefighters also help teach our yearlong Stanwood High School fire science class, training the next generation of first responders.
How is Camano Fire funded?
More than 85% of our funding comes from property tax levies. The Regular Levy voters are being asked to reauthorize represents 57.58% of our budget. The EMS levy represents approximately 28% of the department’s annual budget. By law, 100% of the EMS levy funding goes to EMS services and bridges the gap in funding needed to provide paramedic staffing, training, medical supplies, and replacement ambulances. EMS levy funding cannot be spent on fire protection or other non-medical services.
How do you spend your money?
Our personnel are our most important resource and our biggest budget item. Supplies and equipment, facilities, training, apparatus, and capital replacement funds make up the rest of our expenditures.
Why are you asking us to renew the levy now?
We’re responding to 37% more calls than we did in 2018, when voters last approved the regular levy. The state limits us to collecting only 1% more tax revenue each year, yet the cost to provide fire and rescue services has increased by more than 1% each year. Renewing the levy now allows us to maintain our current level of service and keep pace with rising costs.
Don’t you have a reserve fund or a savings account to use?
We do. Our reserve fund is our savings account. That account has 15% of our annual operating budget. It might sound like a lot, but 15% pays for only 6 weeks of operations. That’s not a lot.
What does the financial picture look like if the levy passes? If it fails?
We based these graphs on our 10-year financial model.
If the levy fails, expenses are projected to outpace revenue by 2023.
If the levy passes, expenses are projected to outpace revenue by 2029.