By Fred Wert
The Okanogan County Fire District 6 commissioners have proposed a new fire hall in Winthrop for a number of years. They put it to a vote earlier, and it was rejected by the voters. What did they do? They went out and purchased a piece of land for a total cost of at least $450,000, hired consultants to design a new 40-room building (another $180,000), and have told the public that the project only costs $2.4 million.
The true project cost needs to also include the interest on the bond ($1.2 million). This brings the total project cost to a minimum of $4.4 million excluding furnishings and equipment for the new building. Why did they do this? Because they have the authority to spend the $724,000 in tax revenue they obtained in 2014 without taxpayer approval and by not disclosing how that money has been spent.
They claim they need more money, yet they pay themselves and five fire chiefs using 73 percent of the total 2014 budget. They profess that the Winthrop fire hall is dangerous for volunteers, yet it is an operational issue as directed by the fire chief. They have claimed the new fire hall would lower insurance rates (not true), that the current fire hall violated state Labor and Industries law (not true), and that there is no other option but building a huge new building (definitely not true).
They are asking for a levy lid increase, but this only applies to those voters in the fire district, which excludes voters within Twisp and Winthrop. This means that property owners outside these towns would be the only ones levied an increase and paying off the bond. Any revenue from the towns or excess revenue above the bond payments could be used as the commissioners see fit, as in buying more Suburbans and hiring more fire chiefs.
Even the fire chief admits that the 40-room building will not be fully used for years, as he stated at a commissioners meeting in June: “Some offices will be used as libraries for the volunteers.” The rooms include sleeping dorms, a kitchen, dining room, day room, gym, and reception area. The engine bay is a 4,000-square-foot, free-span heated concrete floor, with room for six full-sized engines, and with 16-foot-wide doors, each 5 feet wider than code. Is this size building really necessary? Even the commissioners have never said that the new building would reduce response time, save more homes, or help other parts of the valley.
If you want to thank a firefighter, speak directly to them and say “thank you.” Don’t buy into the smoke screen being sent out by the fire district commissioners who are apparently more interested in building a monument to themselves rather than their duty to serve the public.
Fred Wert lives in Twisp.