Fire chiefs say county tax plan is misleading

EVERETT — At least six local fire chiefs say they have serious concerns about the Snohomish County Council’s plans to float a criminal justice sales tax measure.

The chiefs say the current draft of the tax measure would mislead voters into thinking some of the money could be used for firefighting. They’re also worried that message would compete with fire department levies running on the same ballot in the Aug. 2 election.

The fire chiefs say they support additional resources for law enforcement but not the language of the county’s current proposal, the title of which includes the phrase “criminal justice and fire protection purposes.”

The tax proposal is scheduled for a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

“The reality is this ordinance and ballot title is a lie,” Gold Bar Fire Chief Eric Andrews wrote in a letter to council members. “I realize that is a strong word, and I know none of you knowingly would want to include this, but it is clearly misrepresentative of the funding that this levy will provide.”

Sheriff Ty Trenary on Thursday said he was working on an amendment to the legislation that would remove the language causing backlash.

“There was never any intent to hurt our fire districts,” Trenary said. “I believe we will get this corrected.”

The legislation proposes a 0.2 percent sales tax increase to support law and justice. The county says the money would be used to add deputies and prosecutors and address the community heroin epidemic and other crime problems.

If voters approve the measure, the average household in the county would pay an extra $94.37 a year, or 2 cents per $10 purchase. The measure would apply county-wide and raise approximately $25 million annually.

The ordinance language was drafted with the idea that cities that receive some of the revenues could use the money for their fire departments, Trenary said. That raised hackles with the chiefs of fire districts, which operate separately from any city government. Fire districts cover almost three-quarters of the county, and many cities have annexed into districts or contract with the districts for coverage.

In those cities, “not one fire protection improvement will occur,” Andrews said.

He’s worried that the confusion of what appears to be multiple fire-related tax increases will be “the demise of my levy and several other districts’ levies,” he wrote.

If the “fire protection” language is removed, the fire chiefs say they will withdraw their complaints.

“We really support the sheriff’s office and law enforcement,” Andrews said in an interview. “We just don’t support that title.”

District 7 Fire Chief Gary Meek on Thursday morning sent what he called a “blitz email” to his fellow chiefs, asking them to also write the County Council.

Meek told the chiefs, most of whom saw the ordinance late Wednesday, to send a message at Monday’s meeting with a “strong show of force.”

County leaders are “taxing the county citizens for a service and for money that is stated it’s going toward fire protection, but we’re not going to see a penny,” Meek said in an interview.

Among the items scheduled for the August election is the proposed merger between District 7 and neighboring District 3 in Monroe. In addition, at least three fire departments in the county have levy measures planned, some for maintenance and operations and some for emergency medical services.

The other chiefs who cited concerns on Thursday included Jamie Silva at District 3 in Monroe, Ron Simmons at District 4 in Snohomish, Merlin Halverson at District 5 in Sultan, and Jim Haverfield at District 17 in Granite Falls.

Halverson is president of the Snohomish County Fire Chiefs Association.

“We’re unanimously behind more deputies, but we’re unanimously behind that this ballot (title) has to be changed,” he said. “When this gets cleared up, then we can all march forward in lock-step.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

Talk to us

More in Local News

Dominic Wilson looks at his mother while she addresses the court during his sentencing at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Grief remains after sentencing of Marysville teen’s killers

Dominic Wilson must serve 17½ years in prison, while his accomplice Morzae Roberts was given a sentence of four years.

The Washington State University Everett campus on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
WSU ends search to buy land for future branch campus in Everett

The university had $10M to spend. It tried for four years but couldn’t close deals with Everett’s housing authority or the city.

Former Opus Bank/Cascade Bank building in downtown Everett on Thursday, March 16, 2023 in Everett, Washington. It is proposed as the new home of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Economic Alliance asks Everett for $300K to move downtown

The countywide chamber of commerce and economic development organization also would reform the Everett chamber.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Mountlake Terrace leaders weighing federal ARPA fund options

Bathrooms, body cameras, generators, radios, roadwork, roof replacement, sidewalks, trails and more loom for the $4.5 million.

Vehicles on Soper Hill Road wait in line to make unprotected left turns onto Highway 9 northbound and southbound during the evening commute Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens development prompts Highway 9 signal change soon

Turning left from Soper Hill Road can be a long wait now. Flashing yellow turn signals could help with more traffic.

Defense attorney Natalie Tarantino gives her opening statement in the trial of Richard Rotter at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Police give emotional testimony at Rotter trial

On the second day of trial in the slaying of Everett officer Dan Rocha, witnesses described a hectic scene after the shooting.

The Walmart Store on 11400 Highway 99 on March 21, 2023 in in Everett, Washington. The retail giant will close the store on April 21, 2023. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Walmart announces Everett store on Highway 99 will close on April 21

The Arkansas-based retail giant said the 20-year-old Walmart location was “underperforming financially.”

Michael Tolley (Northshore School District)
Michael Tolley named new Northshore School District leader

Tolley, interim superintendent since last summer, is expected to inherit the position permanently in July.

The drugs seized from a Clorox box and an air mattress box in the car of a courier in November 2020. (U.S. Attorney's Office)
Relatives of Arlington fentanyl, meth ringleader get federal prison

Jose Arredondo-Valdez, the cousin of Cesar Valdez-Sanudo, got nine years Tuesday. Valdez-Sanudo’s wife got 30 months.

Most Read