Airway Heights residents to decide two local measures in November
The goal is to improve fire service in the city.
In November, the people of Airway Heights will vote on five city council races. This week, the city council added two new measures to the ballot.
The first would free up money to hire new firefighters by changing the way city residents pay for library service.
Airway Heights has a Spokane County Library District branch, but it’s not officially part of the district. City Manager Albert Tripp says the council wants to change that by having the district annex the city.
“Residents would be taxed separately by the library district, which is differently than what’s occurring now,” he said.
Now, Airway Heights residents pay property taxes to the city for the right to use the library. If the ballot proposal passes, Tripp says the city would re-route what is now library money to the fire department.
“Our projection is to add four additional firefighters/EMTs,” he said.
The department is a hybrid, part professional, part volunteer. Tripp says some first responders drive from Coeur d’Alene and the Tri-Cities to volunteer their time and that has allowed the city to save a few million dollars.
“But one of the things we’ve noticed coming out of the pandemic is the availability of folks to volunteer time has also been reducing. We certainly don’t want a reduction in service,” Tripp said.
The city’s fire chief reports the department has had a 50% increase in calls over the last five years and is struggling to respond to the increased demand.
That leads to the second measure, which would authorize the city to sell bonds to create a modernized home for the fire department. Tripp says the city has plans to buy and refurbish a larger building for that.
“We have a single fire station that was built in 1968. If I’m not mistaken, it’s been renovated at least 10 times, but it lacks a lot of basic improvements you would normally see in a contemporary fire station,” he said.
Tripp says the current fire station is too small for modern apparatus, it doesn’t have decontamination areas for first responders, nor heat and air conditioning in most areas.
The city estimates the cost of the bond measure as 37 cents-per-thousand-dollars of assessed property evaluation.
As for the cost of the first library district proposal, Tripp says the city pays the library district 34 cents-per-thousand-dollars of assessed valuation. It would be up to the district to determine how much it would seek from taxpayers. He says the city property tax rate would not change.
The two measures will appear on the city of Airway Heights’ November ballot.