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Spokane Valley Fire Department puts tax levy before voters in August

Spokane Valley Fire station and truck
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
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The measure would restore the agency's full levy authority.

[8/2: This story was updated to correct the amount for which the fire department is asking voters.]

Property owners in Spokane County have noticed a big increase in their assessments the last few years. That means they’re paying significantly more property tax.

Intuitively, it means the public agencies that collect those taxes are reaping a windfall. Not so, says Spokane Valley Fire Chief Frank Soto, Junior.

“The state law, RCW 84.55, states that we can only have a 1% raise in the tax. So if your house goes up by 50%, we only get 1%. If it goes up 100%, we get 1%," he said.

As a result, Soto says his agency has fallen behind in the amount of money it’s allowed to receive from taxpayers. The law says the department can collect up to a $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. But, because its tax collections aren’t keeping up with inflation and the increase in assessments, Soto says his agency is only collecting about a dollar-five. He says that’s not enough to provide adequate fire protection in an area that’s rapidly growing.

“My goal is, obviously, just like all of the people that work for Spokane Valley Fire Department, is to continue to provide the best quality of life through response, through education, through training with our public, that they have been receiving," Soto, Jr. said.

His agency will ask voters in August to allow it to again collect a $1.50 per thousand dollars of valuation.

The department also has a second funding source. The state allows it to ask voters for an additional property tax to pay for its operations. Soto says that special levy now provides 61% of the department’s funding.

“We are in a very dangerous position. We are heavily dependent on the non-permanent special levy that requires a supermajority vote every four years. If the public says we don’t want to pay for that anymore and it doesn’t pass, then you’ve just wiped out 60% of the fire department," he said.

Soto says the August ballot measure will allow the department to, in his words, “rebalance” its funding stream. That would put more of its funding in the regular tax levy bucket that doesn’t require voter approval.

The August proposition requires majority voter approval. There is no organized opposition.

Ballots for Washington’s primary election will go into the mail in about two weeks.