Ballot measure planned for next year
Okanogan County Fire District 6 commissioners in early November finalized the design of a new fire station proposed for Horizon Flats Road in Winthrop — a necessary step before asking voters to approve a property tax measure sometime next year, to finance the building’s construction.
Commissioners at their Nov. 11 meeting decided to build the vehicle bays and mezzanine in the new station with concrete block rather than wood frame. Concrete block will cost roughly $100,000 more, according to building architect George Watson, but fire commissioners Darold Brandenburg and Jerry Palm preferred concrete because it is easier to maintain and harder to damage. The rest of the building will be wood-frame construction.
Commissioners chose a metal roof for the building rather than a composite roof, which will provide better fire protection for the building and cost about $40,000 more. The board saved money by opting for corrugated metal siding over a stone façade.
Also, the board decided to include certain finishings in their cost estimate for the building, such as window coverings, trim, appliances, cabinets and lockers for firefighters. These items, at about $172,000, were not included in earlier estimates of the building’s cost.
The latest estimate of the total project cost is $4.034 million, of which $2.77 million is the cost of the building itself. Other project costs include site preparation, taxes, insurance, overhead and a $50,000 contingency for unforeseen expenses.
With building details in place, the board can decide how much money to ask voters for, and what the estimated tax levy rate will be. Commissioners also need to decide whether to obtain the funds for the new station through a construction bond or an increase in the district’s existing levy.
A construction bond would require 60% voter approval, while a levy increase would require a simple majority.
The current fire district levy taxes property owners at an annual rate of 65.4 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. At that rate, the district collects $16.34 a month from the owner of a $300,000 home from Gold Creek to Lost River, excluding Twisp.
Commissioners haven’t decided on an election date yet but are leaning toward April 23, 2020, Fire Chief Cody Acord said.
At the Nov. 11 meeting, commissioners considered a proposal that would ask voters to approve a bond or levy of $3.4 million. The remainder of the project cost, about $650,000, would be covered by part of a $1.8 million grant the district received in July from the Bruno and Evelyne Betti Foundation for a training program at the new station. The grant will only be awarded if voters approve the levy.
Commissioners may roll the existing debt on the Horizon Flats Road property into this new debt, and they may spend $10,000 out-of-pocket annually to reduce the overall levy amount.
Acord recommended to commissioners that they include the $30,000 a year paid on the property in the new levy, while not touching the $10,000 of available cash, in case it’s needed to cover the cost of inflation on construction.
Under that scenario, the tax rate for the Winthrop fire station would be 17.5 cents per $1,000, or $4.38 a month on a $300,000 house. For comparison, this rate would be slightly less than the 19.4-cent increase to an existing technology levy that the Methow Valley School District is asking voters to approve on Feb. 11.
Commissioners are likely to revisit the levy numbers at their next meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 at the Winthrop fire station, 223 Engler Road.
In other business, fire district commissioners at a special meeting on Nov. 19 approved a $1.49 million budget for 2020. The district’s actual revenues and expenses are closer to $900,000 a year. The budget includes $599,000 in reserve funds and cash carried into 2020 to pay bills from late 2019, Acord said.
The budget increased $67,000, or 4.7%, compared to last year. Debt payments, which include the Winthrop property and two new vehicles, will increase by more than $92,000 in 2020.
The budget is available on the Fire District 6 website, okanogancountyfd6.com, on the commissioners page.