The Wenatchee Valley Fire Department is asking voters to approve a fire benefit charge on the August 6th primary ballot.  The department currently operates on funding collected through property taxes set through six-year year levy cycles.  The current levy rate is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Fire Chief Brian Brett says the current budgeting model is difficult to cash flow  precisely over a six year time frame and a better, more precise model called a fire benefit charge would allow the agency to better respond to budgetary demands for staffing or equipment in a more incremental fashion and is a fairer way to fund emergency services. A fire benefit charge has been approved in more than twenty fire districts in Washington state.

The current fire levy is based on a property’s assessed value only. “That means two houses of the same size can pay very different amounts depending on their location in our service area,” says Chief Brett, “while the cost to put out a fire at either is the same.”

With a fire benefit charge, the property tax levy is reduced to $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value, and a fire benefit charge is added based on a building’s square footage.

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Structures are categorized and smaller buildings, for instance a residential home, is charged less than a larger commercial or industrial buildings. A typical residential structure fire requires fewer firefighters and fire trucks to respond than fire response on a larger structure like an apartment building or commercial/industrial use building.

Most homeowners will pay the same or even less if voters approve a fire benefit charge  than they do under the current property value tax-based system.

Brett cites the savings for the owner of a 2,500 square foot home in Douglas County appraised at $600,000.  The 2023 fire levy of was $750. Under the proposed fire benefit charge, the owner would pay a total of $718.

To find out what the fire benefit charge would be for your property, visit the fire department’s website, WenatcheeValleyFire.org to use a Fire Benefit Charge Calculator and get an estimate of costs for fire and EMS services based on your address.

Chief Brett says the fire benefit charge is the solution the fire service needs to meet the region's projected growth.

"We're super grateful to hear all the compliments from the public as we have these successes (fighting recent wildfires). But the public has to remember, your fire department is only 50% staffed.  That's what our financing allows us to do. And we're a population of 81,000 people, covering 211 square miles, 6000 calls a year. We aspire, to be able to grow into the service delivery model the public expects and deserves, and the fire benefit charge will allow us to do that".

Equipment Needs are Skyrocketing

Brett believes a fire benefit charge will cushion the blow of skyrocketing equipment purchases.  Explaining the cost of a fire truck increased increased by 3.8 to 4.2% per  year consistently over the 15 years prior to COVID.  WVFD budgeted forward and projecting out 25 years to fund equipment replacement.

"And then here comes Covid. We we purchased two fire engines in 2019 took delivery of them in 2020 and they were $668,000 apiece. We just purchased a fire truck last month, the same exact fire truck and four years later, (it cost) $1.27 9 million. They've doubled in four years. That is another reason we're pursuing the fire benefit charge, because we can adjust for inflation and disperse that cost amongst the ever increasing parcels and ever increasing assessed value, and ideally not even be noticeable to our taxpayers." --WVFD Chief Brian Brett.

The fire benefit charge will appear as Proposition 1 on the August 6th primary ballot for voters in the Wenatchee Valley Fire Department jurisdiction.  To pass, 60% of voters will have to approve of the charge.  The fire benefit charge will require a simple 50% simple majority for renewal.

If a fire benefit charge is approved by voters;

  • It must be renewed by voters every six years.
  • The amount of the benefit charge is evaluated and set annually by local fire commissioners in a public hearing.
  • The benefit charge is included on annual property tax statements.
  • Property owners have the right to appeal their benefit charge.
  • All exemptions for seniors and disabled persons apply.

Residents can learn more at either of two public meetings with Q & A sessions and a presentation by Fire Chief Brian Brett

  • Wednesday, July 24, at 6 p.m., at Station 1 (377 Eastmont Avenue, East Wenatchee)
  • Saturday, July 27, at 10 a.m., at Station 11 (206 Easy Street, Wenatchee)

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Smokey The Bear said it best, "only you can prevent wildfires." Well, it's a lot easier said than done, Smokey. Great name for a bear trying to warn us about fire hazards, by the way.

In order to prevent wildfires, you have to first know how they can be prevented. Here are 10 tips provided by the Department Of Interior that will help you in your every day life, so you can enjoy being outside, camping, and having bonfires without it turning into a problem.

Here are their 10 tips, along with some simplified explanations from me.

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