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Newman Lake residents to decide fire levy today

Newman Lake fire truck
Courtesy of Newman Lake Fire District 13
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Patrons who live in the Newman Lake Fire District are voting on a tax levy to fund the department's operations.

The tax measure is on the primary election ballot.

Voters in the Spokane Valley community of Newman Lake are asked this primary election to increase their property taxes to improve their local fire protection.

Newman Lake Fire Chief Stan Cooke says inflation and a state law that limits annual property tax increases to one percent have whittled away at the district’s ability to provide acceptable fire service. He says the district is only collecting about two-thirds of the tax that it’s allowed. It’s asking for authority to collect the full amount, $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation.

Newman Lake is an all-volunteer department. Cooke proposes to upgrade two chief’s positions from part-time to full-time to increase the department’s capacity to train volunteers. He also wants to hire two full-time firefighters to cover calls when volunteers can’t quickly respond.

Critics of the measure say Newman Lake hasn't grown enough to justify a move to become a professional agency. They say, given inflation and rapidly increasing property assessments, that it's a bad time to ask homeowners, many on fixed incomes, for more money.

Cooke acknowledges that. He says he asked county elections officials for the opportunity to withdraw the ballot measure and perhaps submit a proposal that asks for a small levy amount. But they told him it was too late. He says he expects next week’s measure to fail and the district to then come back later, perhaps next year, with a request for a smaller increase.

Meanwhile, he says, fire ratings agencies may view the district’s ability to respond to calls as substandard, leading insurance companies that sell policies to Newman Lake homeowners to view the area as risky and to increase its homeowners’ insurance rates.