By Ann McCreary
Fire district commissioners are expected to approve a resolution next week calling for increased property taxes to build a new fire station in Winthrop for Okanogan County Fire District 6.
The district commission and staff will provide information and take comments about the proposed station and tax levy at its regular meeting on Monday (July 14), at 7 p.m. at its Winthrop station on Englar Street.
The resolution would place the proposed new tax levy on the November general election ballot. If approved by voters, it would increase the district’s tax levy by 17 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, which would raise an estimated $3.8 million over the next 20 years to fund construction and pay interest on the new station.
About $2.4 million would be needed for construction costs of the new 12,842-square-foot fire station, and $1.4 million would pay interest on general obligations bonds to be issued by the district.
District 6 officials have said for many years that a new station is needed to replace the 4,400-square-foot fire station that the district currently leases from the Town of Winthrop. The site cannot be expanded to meet the district’s needs, district officials say.
Town Clerk Michelle Gaines and Planner Rocklynn Culp said this week they don’t remember the district making any official requests or initiating any process to expand the fire station at the current site.
“I don’t have any recollection of that as a specific conversation,” said Culp.
She said the fire station straddles two lots, each about 50 feet wide and 145 feet deep, owned by town. “It looks to me like they’re utilizing a pretty significant chunk of that space,” Culp said.
The cramped quarters in the station pose a safety risk to firefighters, who must change into their firefighting gear within inches of moving fire trucks, district officials said. District officials have also said they want a paved area to train drivers.
Six years ago the district asked voters to approve a $5 million bond measure for a new station, but the measure failed. In 2010 the district purchased a five-acre parcel for $380,000 on Horizon Flats Road, where it proposes to build the new station.
The proposed new tax levy would increase the district’s tax rate from 61 cents to 78 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The new levy amount would increase taxes from $122 to $156 per year on a $200,000 home. The levy would be in effect for 20 years.
Based on 2014 assessment figures for the district, the additional levy would raise about $176,320 annually, said district Chief Don Waller.
Architect George Watson of Watson & Herres in Spokane has drawn a plan for the new fire hall. The facility would include six drive-through vehicle bays for fast response, a meeting room seating 50 people that could be used for training and other purposes, offices for the fire chief and other paid staff, and a paved area around the building for driver training.
If voters approve the levy increase, the district would issue general obligation bonds to finance the station construction.
“We will hire a bonding company,” said Waller. “They have the expertise to have all the proper documents drawn up and they have attorneys on staff for this reason. The bonding company will also sell the bonds.”
If there is money left over after paying for the station, minor repairs would be made to the district’s Carlton and Mazama facilities, Waller said.
The district includes residents in the unincorporated areas and communities from Gold Creek to Mazama, with the exception of Winthrop and Twisp. The valley’s two largest communities receive fire protection from District 6 under separate contracts, but are not part of the district and residents would not vote on or pay the increased tax levy.
The Winthrop Council recently renewed its contract for a year with the fire district. The town will pay $44,000, the same amount as the previous year. Twisp has a five-year contract that began in 2013 and includes increases each year, reaching $48,620 in 2017.