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Spokane County Fire District 9 levy failing at ballot box

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(The Center Square) – In what was supposed to be a routine tax renewal, the Maintenance and Operations Levy for Spokane County Fire District 9 appears headed toward failure after being in effect for nearly three decades.

After the polls closed Tuesday night and ballots were counted, the levy was less than 1% shy of the 60% supermajority required to pass, sitting at 59.07%.

In addition to the levy, another property-tax-funded levy fulfills the other 35 percent of the district’s budget. He said the Fire Levy costs taxpayers 65 cents per $1000 of assessed property value; while the renewed M&O levy would cost $1.47 per $1000 of assessed value in 2025.

The proposed renewal would’ve increased the M&O levy by 18 cents, which would have totaled around $72 annually based on Spokane County’s median home value of around $400,000.

Jim Walkowski, executive fire chief for District 9, said the next step is getting the Maintenance and Operations Levy back on the ballot for the next election in August. The district has stable funding through the end of 2024, so the next election is its chance to secure funds for 2025-2027.

“If for some reason we continue to fail the levy rolling into fire seasons for 2025, that could be very impactful,” he said. “What that looks like exactly, I don’t know yet.”

To reach the ballot in time, officials must file paperwork by May 3, which leaves them only one week when typically they would have months to prepare.

Walkowski said if the M&O levy fails again, the district will lose around 65% of its funding, causing significant impacts.

According to the district’s website, the M&O levy has primarily funded the district for 28 years and was most recently renewed in 2021. Walkowski believes it failed this time due to simple confusion over what was on the ballot.

Walkowski said voters confused the two due to a mix-up with the explanatory statement.

District 9 has never asked for an increase to the Fire Levy, so if voters thought it was going from 65 cents to $1.47, that is a significant increase, he said; instead of a 126% hike, the M&O levy is only facing an increase of around 14%.

“The explanatory statement confused folks, and they thought we were asking for too much,” Walkowski said.

District #9’s Board of Fire Commissioners will meet Friday morning to begin working on putting the M&O levy back on the August ballot.