Fire levy ignites controversy

Photographer: Hazel Mckenzie

The upcoming election is a big topic on the minds of voters. The fire levy lift has been an ongoing discussion since the last levy lid lift in 2014, and continues to be one of the most controversial topics throughout Orcas Island. Orcas Island Fire and Rescue has proposed an increased tax levy in order to obtain enough funding for the upkeep of their equipment and services. In 2014, there was a 10 year long levy lid lift of $1.05/$1000. This won by 62.22% of the vote. This lift expires this year, and the current proposal is to raise the levy to $1.06/1,000, which is the maximum amount that it can possibly increase within Washington state law (Washington permits a maximum 1% tax increase per year.) This proposal from Orcas Island Fire and Rescue was created based on financial projections for the next 10 years. “The increase in revenue allows the District to budget for the continued fire engine and ambulance refurbishments and replacements, as well as keeping up with the increased cost of doing business based on recent inflation,” said Assistant Chief Holly van-Schaick on the Orcas Fire and Rescue website. “We want to maintain the current response level and provide funding integral to volunteer recruitment and retention.”

Additionally, they are suffering from employment issues which means this additional levy may be necessary to maintain the current standard of service they have been upholding.

Despite this, many disagree with this levy lid lift, claiming that it is a result of poor management and budgeting from the fire department. Since the tax has gone down to a low $0.58/$1,000, this levy lift would mean an 82.7% tax increase, which has caused a large uproar from Orcas Island locals and complaints on behalf of low-income residents who are currently struggling in this already heavily taxed area. Those against the tax lift have proposed less permanent and drastic adjustments of the fire department’s budget. That would mean less taxes and easier budget management, although it would also result in less stability for Orcas Island Fire and Rescue moving forward. The fire department would not be extremely disadvantaged in the short term if this were to happen, however in years to come they may face issues with their ability to properly fund equipment and workers. Although the approval of the levy lid lift would be extremely favorable for Orcas Island Fire and Rescue, it may cause unwanted repercussions for low-income families of the island.