Proposed Wenatchee Valley Fire District Rate Increases an Attempt to Keep Up with Call Volumes, Economy
Chelan County Fire District 1 and Douglas County Fire District 2 Chief Brian Brett is continuing his push to convince voters to combine the two districts as well as approve a rate increase in the upcoming August election.
The rate increase would bring the two districts' levy rate to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Chelan County 1 residents would see an increase of about $8.50 per month, while Douglas County 2 residents be about $10 per month.
Brett gave an in-depth presentation to the East Wenatchee City Council Tuesday night.
He said the districts had budgeted for 4.2% annual inflation about 6-7 years ago, but after the pandemic those estimates flew out the window. The cost of fire trucks alone went up 18% over the last year and a half.
"We'll still be the cheapest, least-staffed fire department in the state for a demographic this size and we are the fifth-highest risk in the state of burning down from one end to the other every summer," Brett continued.
Brett said that the rate increase is the cheapest option regardless and that the only way to make things cheaper would be to decrease the area's level of service. That could have serious impacts on response time, as the two districts have seen their call volume rise by 37% over the last five years.
A lack of staffing could also impact how long it takes firefighters to enter a burning building once they respond to a scene.
The national standard is four firefighters per one engine, although Washington State allows an exception for three per engine. If the rate increase was approved by voters, that would still only guarantee two firefighters on every engine locally. Brett said the third crew member would likely be filled by either a volunteer or someone out of their college program.
"The third person is critical for us because Washington State gives us an exemption that if we show up at your house with three people, and you tell me your child is inside the house, we can initiate a rescue legally right then and there. We don't have to wait." Brett said, "With two people on a fire engine you have to wait for the next fire engine to arrive."
Brett added that it's likely there will be another proposed rate increase in the November general election or sometime next year.