The Wenatchee Valley Fire Department is looking to boost its ability to respond to emergencies. 

Voters in Wenatchee and East Wenatchee approved a merger of two fire districts into one last year, which included an increase in property taxes. 

Fire Chief Brian Brett says they'll next ask voters to approve funding for more fire fighters to be hired. 

"It's step two of forming the regional fire authority," said Brett. "We're real optimistic about coming back to the public and saying, 'Here's what we need to do for a sustainable fire department.' We've always had great public support. We're looking forward to it."  

Brett says their staff of 16 firefighters is the minimum National Fire Protection Association standard of firefighters on duty. 

Those 16 crew members respond to emergencies in a 172 square mile area.   

The department is financially not able to hire additional personnel because of limitations in property taxes. The levy for the fire department can only increase by one percent a year without voter approval. 

Brett says the department's budget will grow by $200,000 next year, while its expenses will grow by $1.5 million. 

The original plan was to start hiring more personnel when the merger of the two departments was finalized because both departments had an excess levy in place. But laws don't allow for an excess levy when forming a new entity, so the new department was configured to conform with the one-percent levy cap. 

Brett says they're looking to ask voters for more money with a ballot measure in August of 2024. 

"We're looking forward to coming to the public with a new package, and ideally increasing our staffing incrementally over time, so that we can meet the life safety requirements that we're measured to, which is CPR and the ability to rescue someone from a building fire," Brett said. 

The merger approved by voters last year combined Chelan County Fire District 1 with Douglas County Fire District 2.  

The combined department now serves Wenatchee, Sunnyslope, Malaga, East Wenatchee and Rock Island. 

When voters approved the merger, residents in Fire District 1 saw taxes increase from $1.32 per $1,000 assessed value to $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value. Fire District 2 residents saw property taxes increase from $1.26 per $1,000 to $1.50 per $1,000. 

More From NewsRadio 560 KPQ