The Robe Valley Fire Station is located at 31907 Mountain Loop Highway, about 10 miles east of Granite Falls. (Courtesy of Snohomish County Fire District 23)

The Robe Valley Fire Station is located at 31907 Mountain Loop Highway, about 10 miles east of Granite Falls. (Courtesy of Snohomish County Fire District 23)

Fire commission, chief support merger of Granite Falls and Robe Valley

Voters next week will see a ballot proposition to combine Fire District 17 and Fire District 23 into a single department.

GRANITE FALLS — Fire District 23 in Robe Valley could be absorbed by Fire District 17 in Granite Falls if voters pass a ballot proposition next week.

Since the 1930s, District 23 has kept watch over the unincorporated community of Robe Valley, located about 10 miles east of Granite Falls along Mountain Loop Highway. District 23’s jurisdiction spans 12 square miles of land, covering part of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and serving roughly 370 residents.

The district does not have enough tax funding to pay employees and used to be powered by volunteers until about two years ago.

“When COVID hit, all the volunteers stopped attending meetings,” Fire Commissioner John Sobieski said. “None returned after the emergency ended. They’d found other activities.”

The lack of volunteers coupled with a limited budget in the district led to delayed response times in Robe Valley, Sobieski said. Without the funding to pay employees, District 23 began to lean heavily on the neighboring District 17 in Granite Falls.

For the past two years, the Granite Falls fire district has contracted to serve the Robe Valley region.

“They’re essentially taking all of our tax base money for the contract services,” Sobieski said. “So we’ve been working on keeping the building heated with funds that are rapidly dwindling right now.”

District 23 has historically relied on hand-me-down equipment from other local districts, because its annual $60,000 budget is used to cover insurance, some emergency medical supplies and keeping the station lights on. Without a volunteer base, the district can’t serve its community, Sobieski said.

If the merger proposition passes, District 17 will take over all of District 23’s property and infrastructure. The Robe Valley station at 31907 Mountain Loop Highway will be used as a storage facility for Granite Falls Fire equipment.

Sobieski said he and the other two District 23 Commissioners — Tony Green and Dick Dingham — fully support the merger.

“I think it’s going to be a big win for us, overall,” he said. “It’s going to enhance fire and EMS services for our residents. You know, Granite Falls has recently added a medic program, which will be very beneficial to our residents.”

If the proposition passes, Robe Valley residents will likely see a property tax increase beginning as soon as 2024, Granite Falls Fire Chief Jim Haverfield said. Granite Falls residents will not see a tax increase.

When asked, Haverfield could not provide a specific projected tax increase. He noted there will be no change for the year 2023.

“The (District 23) station is in desperate need of repairs,” Haverfield said. “We’ll probably have to put a little bit of money into that to stop it from leaks and potentially use it for storage.”

The chief said he supports the merger and had not heard of any opposition in the community.

Longtime Robe Valley resident Rick Handy said he supports the merger, even though he’ll be sad to see the end of an era at District 23. Handy, 69, said he volunteered at the fire district for 22 years, beginning in 1996. He is a former commissioner.

“The times, they change,” Handy said. “It requires so much time and training to run a station. We don’t have the volunteers anymore, or the tax base.”

Handy, who lives right by the fire station, sat at his kitchen table last week and reminisced about the old days of District 23.

“I will miss it,” Handy said. “Years ago, we used to have Robe Valley Days to raise money for the station. We’d do a dunk tank, and one year we roasted a whole pig. We made spaghetti with the leftovers.”

If passed, the merger will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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