Darrington’s fire levy may pass after all

A week after election night, the margin of passage was 11 votes, with few ballots left to count.

DARRINGTON — A fire levy request that appeared to be failing last week has gained enough votes to bring it back from the brink.

The tax measure for Fire District 24 in Darrington is narrowly passing. Another count is expected later this week, though few ballots remain to be tallied.

The measure appeared to be failing on election night. Now, the district expects the ballot item to pass, Chief Dennis Fenstermaker said.

As of Monday evening, the most recent count, 753 people had cast their vote. Of those, 382 were in favor and 371 opposed.

“Until we get the final numbers, we can’t absolutely say for sure that it will pass,” he said. “An 11-vote margin is kind of razor thin.”

This was the fire district’s second attempt at passing this levy lift. The first, in February, failed by 11 votes.

This time, it was one of eight fire and emergency medical services measures on ballots around Snohomish County. Multiple fire chiefs noted that costs have increased faster than revenues.

Darrington’s fire district has three part-time paid positions and more than 20 trained volunteers. Fenstermaker has said that if the district can’t operate with its volunteer system, there is no affordable alternative.

Darrington made cuts after the levy failed in February. Rather than paying to have someone at the station each day, they reduced staffing to five days a week. Passing the levy would bring that back up to seven.

The part-time staff and fire commissioners took voluntary pay cuts, saving the district roughly $2,000 a month. But that was never meant to be a permanent fix.

Along with staffing, levy money would be directed toward maintaining and replacing equipment. Grants over the years have allowed the district to invest in equipment, but maintenance can be costly.

The levy rate increase would be about 58 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, from 67 cents to $1.25 per $1,000. That’s up $145 a year on a $250,000 home.

“This of course helps us to stay in a better level of service. We’ll have revenues coming in we can actually count on,” Fenstermaker said.

Between 2011 and 2017, the number of calls Darrington firefighters and medics responded to increased from 380 to 625. Most of those are medical emergencies.

As of Monday, fire or EMS levy measures also were passing for: South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue; Lake Stevens Fire; and districts serving Sultan, Silvana, Lake Roesiger and the rural Arlington area. A levy lift for EMS proposed by the city of Mukilteo was failing, with about 43 percent of the vote.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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