Voters to decide bond for new fire engines
60% needed to approve April 26th bond request
to maintain reliable equipment
When a car or truck does not start in the morning as you head off to work, school or appointments, frustration is the typical response. Inconvenience and tardiness are often the results. For firefighters, the stakes are much higher.
Minutes matter when responding to emergencies, whether for a health concern, a traffic crash, or for protection of property. During the past two years, South Whatcom Fire Authority emergency responders have experienced an increasing amount of time with their first response fire engines out of service waiting for repairs.
Three of the fire engines serving our five stations are 23 to 33 years old. Repairs are growing more costly and more frequent as these vehicles age, and in many instances that “out of service” time is prolonged by the inability to even find parts. While historically SWFA has successfully extended the life of this equipment with a conscientious and thorough maintenance plan, there’s only so much that can be done. Eventually the costs of repairs and loss of reliability force families to make the difficult choice to replace their aging vehicle. South Whatcom Fire commissioners have come to that same decision. Like most families, the fire authority’s “savings” will not cover the cost.
In April, fire department leaders are asking voters to approve a $1.96 million bond to replace three of the department’s most unreliable and unsafe fire engines. The new engines will improve response times, lower maintenance costs, and serve our community for 25 years. Improvements in fire engine designs will accommodate personnel, equipment and water capacity for modern fire and emergency response. If approved, the cost is approximately 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is about $39 per year or $3.25 a month for the owner of a home valued at $300,000. Collection would begin in 2017 with the debt paid off in 2028 or about 10.5 years. Bonds are similar to a loan or mortgage where funds are provided up front, and then repaid with interest.
Compared with other methods of financing, bonds generally provide the community with a lower cost over time. Currently, the bond market is offering extremely low rates, another factor in the commissioners’ decision that now is the best time to move forward with replacement.
Q & A
Our fire engines look fine.
Why do we need new trucks now?
Great care is taken with all South Whatcom Fire Authority equipment, and their appearance is a source of pride for our staff. The bulk of the wear is where it can’t be seen, on the mechanics inside. Many years of service have resulted in engines that are no longer reliable and often break down. This affects response times, safety of personnel, and increases on-going operational costs.
What will this proposal cost?
Cost is estimated at 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is about $39 per year or $3.25 a month for the owners of a $300,000 home.
How much does an engine cost?
A new fire engine is estimated to cost $653,000 this year. Costs typically increase 4-5% each year, or about $30,000. South Whatcom leaders have “locked in” 2015 pricing, dependent on new trucks being ordered by May 2016.
We already pay a fire levy.
Why ask for special bond?
South Whatcom Fire Authority leaders know taxpayers want their fire levy dollars to be used wisely and efficiently. The current levy primarily covers the costs of daily operations to provide fire and basic EMS services. Beyond that, finances over the last seven years have been carefully managed to cover two new ambulances, a new water tender, and a new station on Samish Way. While the department does have some limited reserves, the cost of 3 fire trucks is more than what can be managed without additional help.
My family hasn’t called 911.
How does this bond benefit us?
In addition to maintaining a high level of service should your family ever need help, another benefit is a strong insurance rating. Our rate is currently level 5 out of 10 (10 being no fire department service). To maintain that level requires staying current with state and national standards. Depending on the carrier, changes in this rating can impact the amount a family or business pays for insurance.
If we get new engines,
what happens to the old ones?
Current front line engines will be moved to the reserve pool to continue to serve taxpayers when front line trucks are undergoing maintenance. Engines no longer suitable for use will be sold as surplus property.
Why are three engines needed?
According to national standards, the useful life of a fire engine is 15 years on the front line and then an additional ten years in reserve. Three of the engines currently at work in SWFA’s five stations are 23 to 33 years old. They often break down, don’t meet safety standards, and one will only carry two people. Replacing them with three new engines will serve our community for 25 years (15 years past when they’re paid for), lower response times, and add to the safety of our crews.
Since the Fire Authority just formed, why new engines already?
The South Whatcom Fire Authority was formed in 2009 by consolidating the fire stations and existing equipment from four small fire districts. Many of the fire engines and other equipment we inherited were at or beyond their intended lifespan when we formed, and have seen seven years of additional service since then.
Since SWFA formed:
Formed in 2009 to maintain quality and reliable service
Consolidated Sudden Valley, Geneva, Yew Street Road, Lake Samish, Chuckanut fire districts
• Station 21 (Geneva) 24/7 staffing, 365 days per year
• Station 28 (Samish Way) 24/7 staffing, 365 days per year
• Station 22 (Sudden Valley) staffed daily; volunteers respond from their homes in the evening
• Station 18 (Chuckanut) staffed on weekends
• Station 29 (West Lake Samish) not staffed, volunteer only
Since forming in 2009, South Whatcom Fire Authority has ...
Purchased two new ambulances to replace antiquated units for greater reliability and patient safety
Acquired Station 28 to better serve taxpayers with 24/7 staff responding to calls for help
Replaced old “water tender” (aka mobile water tank) to guarantee water supply in areas without hydrants
April 26, 2016 Ballot Title:
Proposition No. 2016-1
The Governing Board of the South Whatcom Fire Authority, Whatcom County, Washington, adopted Resolution No. 2016-02 concerning financing for the acquisition and equipping of new fire engines. If approved, this proposition would authorize the Authority to acquire and equip three new fire engines, to be financed by the issuance of not more than $1,960,000.00 of general obligation bonds maturing within 10 1/2 years to be repaid by the annual levy of excess property taxes, all as provided in Resolution No. 2016-02. Should this proposition be approved?
Bond at a glance:
• The Fire Authority seeks voter approval for bond financing to acquire and equip three new fire engines.
• Three existing engines are 23 -33 years old and the additional engines are needed to ensure reliable continued service.
• Bonds will be repaid over 10.5 years with a tax for property owners in South Whatcom Fire Authority service area, including Sudden Valley, Geneva, Yew Street Road, Lake Samish, and Chuckanut.
• Annually, it is estimated the cost to property owners will be $0.13 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is $39 per year or $3.25 a month for the owner of a home valued at $300,000. Exact amounts of the property tax depend on the bond interest rate at the time of the bond sale.
For more information:
Visit swfra.org or
contact by telephone
Fire Chief Dave Ralston
Ask your questions & see the fire engines at:
• Tues., April 5 at Station 21 (Geneva)
4518 Cable Street, Bellingham
• Wed., April 6 at Station 28 (Samish Way)
5170 Samish Way, Bellingham