Whatcom County Fire District 7 Fire Chief Larry Hoffman said the fire district will be asking voters to approve a $3.5-million capital improvement bond issue on the Primary Election ballot in August.
Bond revenue would be used as follows according to documents provided by WCFD7.
- Upgrade 1982 water tender currently in front line use. It is 37-years-old and should have been replaced 12 years ago. Cost to upgrade is $375,000.
- Upgrade 1990 Pierce pumper truck (aka fire engine) currently in front line use. It is 29-years-old and should have been replaced 4 years ago. Cost to upgrade is $575,000. This unit is not eligible to refurbish due to its design.
- Refurbish 2 1997 and 1 1998 pumper trucks currently in front line service. These pumpers are 21- and 20-years-old and are nearing the end of their life cycle. These pumpers can be refurbished for approximately half the cost of purchasing new. Cost to upgrade the 3 units is $1,005,000 (cost to purchase 3 new pumpers would be nearly $1.8 million dollars).
- Upgrade/refurbish two aid units. 1 is a 2000 and 1 is a 2005 box type ambulance. These units are eligible to have new chassis replacements and will extend the life of them for another 10 years. Cost to upgrade/refurbish is $300,000.
- Upgrade 2 initial attack vehicles (brush fire trucks). These vehicles are both over 36-years-old and do not meet current standards or needs. Cost to upgrade 2 units is $200,000.
- Upgrade 60 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The SCBAs were purchased using a grant 14 years ago. Bottles containing breathing air have a life span of 15 years. These bottles will be out of service in 2020. The breathing apparatus protect firefighters when they enter hazardous atmosphere. They are old and are beginning to require more maintenance to make them last their expected 15 year life cycle. Cost to upgrade is $600,000.
- Upgrade current portable radios. Presently, we have 80 portable radios that were purchased 19 years ago. They require constant maintenance and generally are worn out. These radios are a firefighter’s lifeline when they are in a hazardous situation. They typically have a life span of 10 years. Cost to replace is $100,000.
The same documents say options to seeking a bond or in the event the bond is not approved include:
- Funding upgrades/purchase of apparatus and safety equipment out of limited reserve funds or the operating budget
- Closing stations in outlying areas which would result in increased response times
- Eliminate special operations such as public education, fire prevention and community outreach
- Reduction in force through attrition to meet the capital needs of the district
The bond issue would be repaid over 15 years. The levy rate has been estimated at $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. The cost for a property assessed at $350,000 would be approximately $24.50 per year at that rate.
WCFD7 acquired 2 pumper trucks in 2017 to replace a 1986 Pierce Arrow and a 1980 Seagrave. The new trucks are being leased over 10 years with a $1 buy out at the end of the lease according to Hoffman.
Property owners currently pay a property levy tax that covers ongoing fire district operations and payroll costs. While levy revenues can be used for capital improvements, the amount they can be increased each year is capped at 1% due to a 2001 law. This has meant not having excess money in their budgets to set aside for these types of expenditures, Hoffman said in a phone interview. “We have gone this far without having to ask for help but now we have to.”
The district’s bond issue proposal would, like the recent school district’s bond issue proposal, require a super majority of 60%+ to be approved and at least 40% of the number of voters that voted in the last General Election need to cast votes.