Money may be available without a public vote
By Ann McCreary
Okanogan County Fire District 6 commissioners will evaluate whether the district can finance construction of a new fire station in Winthrop without a levy increase or bond proposal at a public meeting on Monday (Nov. 24).
The meeting, which includes a public hearing on the district’s proposed 2015 budget, will be at 7 p.m. in the Twisp Fire Hall on Second Avenue.
In the general election earlier this month, voters rejected by 54 to 46 percent a ballot proposition by the fire district to increase the district’s tax levy to raise money to pay for a new fire station.
At their meeting on Nov. 10, district commissioners said they wanted to move ahead with plans for a new fire station and instructed Chief Don Waller to try to find money in the 2015 budget for the project.
District commissioners said they still want to issue general obligation bonds for the station, which has estimated construction costs of $2.4 million and interest costs of $1.1 million.
The district’s proposed levy increase of 17.5 cents was projected to bring in about $176,000 per year, based on property assessment figures for the fire district. The district sought a 20-year levy lid lift to finance the fire station project.
Waller told commissioners that he thought he could “come up with $150,000 a year” in the district budget for the fire station project.
The district proposes building a 12,500-square-foot station on a 5-acre parcel, purchased in 2008 for $380,000, on Horizon Flats.
Commissioners considered, but rejected, the idea of downsizing the proposed fire station at their meeting earlier this month.
Jim Nelson, a bond underwriter with D.A. Davidson & Company who has been working with the district, said if the district decides to issue a non-voted bond it could do so within its legal debt limit.
State law sets that limit at 3/8 of 1 percent of the district’s assessed valuation. The assessed valuation of the district in 2014 is $1.05 billion, which would give the district a non-voted debt capacity of $3.9 million, Nelson said. That debt capacity would include any other non-voted debt outstanding in addition to any debt incurred through issuing bonds for a new station, he said.
Nelson said the fire district’s current tax levy of 61.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation is well below its statutory limit of $1.50 per $1,000. That levy of 61.5 cents is expected to generate $645, 253 this year, according to the district budget.
District officials have been trying for years to find a way to build a new station to replace a 4,400-square-foot fire hall on Englar Street near downtown Winthrop that the fire district leases from the town. Six years ago voters turned down a district-sponsored bond measure to build a station on property across from the Winthrop post office.
The current station is so cramped that it poses a safety hazard to firefighters who must put on firefighting gear next to moving engines, according to district officials. They say the inadequate facilities have hampered the district’s ability to recruit volunteer firefighters, and forces the district to conduct firefighter training exercises at the high school.