Spokane County Fire District 8 seeks levy renewal on February ballot to make station, equipment upgrades

Spokane County Fire District 8 is asking voters to renew a maintenance and operations levy on the February ballot to continue their level of service and make improvements to stations and equipment.

The district’s four stations serve 110 square miles directly south of the Spokane and Spokane Valley city limits. Last year the district responded to 4,248 calls for service, more than 80% of which were for medical issues. The number of annual calls increased by 29% from 2018 -21.

Fire Chief Lonnie Rash said it works out to about 11 calls a day. “We certainly have seen an increase,” he said.

The district responds to those calls with 44 full-time firefighters and 11 volunteers. The district used to have more volunteers, but increased training requirements, among other issues, have caused the numbers to drop, Rash said.

“Just the availability of volunteers has decreased,” he said.

Renewing the levy will help the district maintain its goal of having one paramedic at each fire station at all times so there are advanced life support options available to residents. The cost of the levy will be 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value, putting the price at $16.68 per month for a home valued at $400,000.

“It’s about a fourth of our overall budget,” Rash said. “If that goes away, it would have a big impact.”

Maintaining and upgrading the fire stations is a key part of the budget. The district’s station in the Ponderosa neighborhood was built in 1974 and hasn’t been renovated or upgraded since, Rash said.

“We would love to have a larger station and put in a water tender,” he said.

However, there is no room for expansion at the current site. The city of Spokane Valley owns property across the street that is intended to be a park, and District 8 has signed an interlocal agreement with the city so that there can be discussions about buying a few acres to build a new station, Rash said. Any such project would be years away, but steps are being taken now to plan for the future.

The station in the Saltese/Morningside neighborhood was built in 1990 and hasn’t had any improvements. Rash said there are plans to put on new siding and make small improvements inside, such as new carpet. Eventually, in a few years, the district would like to add a new truck bay and expand the living quarters.

“It was built as a volunteer station,” he said. “That’s another one we really need to renovate. It’s really tight.”

The maintenance and operations levy is also used to upgrade and replace equipment. Rash said the district paid $720,000 a few months ago for a new fire engine, but was told it would be two years or longer before it is delivered. Until it arrives, the district will continue to maintain a 2002 engine that it is intended to replace, Rash said.

The levy requires a 60% “yes” vote in order to pass. If it doesn’t pass, Rash said the commissioners could decide to vote to try again. But the last levy renewal passed with 80% of the vote, and Rash said he’s optimistic that it will be approved.

“We have what I consider to be wonderful community support,” he said. “We don’t go out and ask for things we don’t need.”

If the levy is not approved, the district would not fill any current or future firefighter vacancies, Rash said.

“We’d continue to respond to the best of our abilities,” he said. “It could increase response times for (advanced life support) from some of our stations. The ability to update and renovate equipment and facilities would be delayed until we have more funding.”

Anyone with questions about the levy renewal is encouraged to attend a public informational meeting at 6 pm Feb. 2 at Station 82, 12100 E. Palouse Highway.