Town residents won’t see any changes in service
By Don Nelson
If you missed the transition when the Town of Winthrop was annexed to Okanogan Fire District 6 earlier this year, it’s not because you weren’t paying attention.
Fire services and other agreements that were in place when the town contracted with the fire district for protection haven’t changed, and residents won’t see any noteworthy changes in how the district operates within the town limits, Fire Chief Cody Acord said this week.
“It’s been a smooth transition,” Acord said. “We made it seamless, so residents shouldn’t see any difference in response.”
Voters in both the town and the district approved the annexation by wide margins in a February 2017 special election.
What Winthrop residents will notice is a fire district tax levy in their property tax bills. Town residents will see their property tax bills increase by 64 cents per $1,000 of assessed evaluation, the same rate that District 6 now assesses its rural residents.
But the town’s tax assessment bill will drop by 52 cents per $1,000 in 2019 when an earlier bond issue to pay for a fire truck is retired. So the net property tax increase will be 12 cents per $1,000 after the town’s first year as part of the district, according to the town.
Now that Winthrop is part of the district, town residents will be eligible to vote in elections affecting Fire District 6 operations, and will be eligible to run for positions on the district’s board of commissioners.
“The Town of Winthrop now has a voice,” Acord said. “That’s a big issue.”
New fire hall
That voice may become more important as district is currently trying to come up with a plan for a new fire hall in Winthrop. The district purchased 5 acres in the Horizon Flats neighborhood in 2009, and proposed building a 12,000-square-foot station there at an estimated cost of about $2.4 million. The station was intended to replace the leased fire hall in Winthrop that district officials say is too small and inadequate to safely accommodate equipment and firefighters.
A property tax levy increase to fund the new station was rejected by voters in 2014 (Twisp and Winthrop residents did not vote in that election).
The district is now identifying potential alternate sites for a new fire hall. The preferred site is a parcel on White Avenue next to Little Star Montessori School, but the district doesn’t have the finances in place to buy the White Avenue property, retain the old property (or sell it a loss), and build a new hall.
Winthrop’s previous fire services contract cost the town $50,375 a year. After annexation, the fire district levy will raise about $64,000 for district operations
However, as part of the annexation agreement, the district will pay the town $10,000 a year for use of the fire hall on Englar Street in Winthrop, so the overall financial impact for Fire District 6 would be only a few thousand dollars more in revenue, according to the district. The district will also continue to use the town’s fire truck, which will remain the property of Winthrop, as part of the annexation agreement.
Acord said earlier that “for the district it’s pretty much a wash” financially, as a result of the $10,000 yearly payment for use of the Englar street fire hall.
According to calculations provided by the town, the total property tax bill on a property with an assessed value of $125,000 within Winthrop was about $280 in 2017, then will be $360 in 2018 (including the fire district levy), and $295 in 2019 (after the fire truck bond is retired).
Twisp currently contracts with the district for fire protection.
District 6’s firefighting contingent currently includes five paid staffers and 38 volunteers. The fire district covers an area of about 350 square miles and provides fire, rescue and emergency response services from Gold Creek to Lost River. There are fire stations in Twisp, Winthrop, Mazama and Carlton.