By Ann McCreary
A proposal to increase the Okanogan County Fire District 6 tax levy to build a new fire station in Winthrop will be the topic of two public meetings hosted by the fire district.
The meetings will be held Monday (June 9) and July 14. Both meetings will be at 7 p.m. in the Winthrop Fire Station, 223 Englar St.
The fire district proposes building a new fire station on property owned by the district on Horizon Flats Road. The levy increase would provide funding to build the new station.
A new station is needed because the Winthrop Fire Station, which is leased from the town, is too small to safely accommodate firefighters, engines and firefighting equipment, according to fire district officials.
A consultant from the state Department of Labor & Industries toured the station last year at the district’s request, and found six areas where clearance between engines and emergency personnel were too close.
District 6 Chief Don Waller said firefighters changing into gear for emergency calls have 12 inches or less between themselves and the moving engines in some areas of the station, creating unsafe conditions for firefighters.
The cramped quarters have made it difficult to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters, who make up 90 percent of the district’s emergency responders, Waller said. The Winthrop station has 10 volunteers, but ideally should have 25, although the facility is too small to accommodate them, he said. Winthrop receives more emergency calls than other stations in the district, Waller said.
The district proposes building a 12,842 square-foot station that will house six vehicles, space for fighters to put on their gear, a training room, administrative offices and a paved area to provide training for engine drivers.
The district plans to place a resolution on the November general election ballot asking voters to approve a 20-year levy lid lift for $2.4 million in capital facility improvements. The money would finance construction of the new station and, if funding permits, would provide for minor repairs to the Carlton and Mazama stations.
Under the proposal, the levy increase would add 17 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, increasing the total fire district levy from 61 to 78 cents per thousand. The 17-cent increase would equal an additional $34 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.
Based on 2014 assessment figures for the district, the additional levy would raise about $176,320 annually, Waller said.
Fire commissioners are expected to vote on the levy resolution at their July meeting. If the levy increase is approved by voters in November, the district would issue general obligation bonds for the station construction and seek construction bids, with the goal of beginning construction in April 2015, Waller said.
Residents who cannot attend the public meetings can send comments to Okanogan County Fire District 6, P.O. Box 895, Winthrop, WA 98862, or email Waller at firstname.lastname@example.org.