Fire levies fail in Mukilteo, Arlington area; pass elsewhere

It’s “a tough pill to swallow,” District 21 Fire Chief Chad Schmidt said. Meanwhile, most Snohomish County districts approved their levies.

Arlington Fire Department truck (Snohomish County Fire District 21)

Arlington Fire Department truck (Snohomish County Fire District 21)

MUKILTEO — Voters in Mukilteo and the Arlington area were the only ones in Snohomish County who opposed property tax increases for emergency medical services.

The EMS temporary levy lid lift failed in Mukilteo with 59% voting against the ballot measure, as of Wednesday.

The measure would have increased the levy rate from 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to 40 cents per $1,000. The cost would be about $9.25 per month for the average Mukilteo residence valued at $839,100.

In the voters’ pamphlet, supporters argued the funds were needed for services to avoid using money from the city’s general fund “or necessitating a move to a regional network.”

Opponents stated it was an unnecessary tax increase and that the “quality of service will not be impacted,” a statement in the voters’ pamphlet read.

“We are disappointed, but at the same time I understand,” Mayor Joe Marine said. “Will they see an erosion of service? Not immediately. … Our costs go up by more than 1 percent and we have to go back and ask the citizens if we want more than 1%, which is what we were doing. We may have to go back and ask again. … We’ve seen city after city decide to get out of the fire and EMS business and have it taken over regionally. I don’t think that’s the right move.”

In Fire District 21, encompassing 70 square miles east of Arlington and north of Granite Falls, the measure would have authorized restoring a regular tax levy at $1.30 per $1,000, an increase of about 46 cents.

Despite repeated recruitment efforts, no argument was presented against it in the voters’ pamphlet.

The supporting argument cited the substantial growth in the district since the last levy was passed in 2018 and the funds were needed to adequately staff fire stations. Without it, advocates stated, multiple stations would be left with just two firefighters each.

Fire District 21 commissioners Ed Taft, Eric Nordstrom and Dave Safford wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in The Daily Herald on July 14 seeking support of the measure.

“Currently, we operate with limited personnel, often stretching our resources to their limits during emergencies,” they wrote.

The measure failed with nearly 53% voting against the measure, as of Wednesday.

“The vote is going to have a great detrimental impact on the staffing and the service level that is provided,” the district’s Fire Chief Chad Schmidt said Thursday. “I think people get confused with how the fire department is funded. They don’t realize that this is the main source of our income …. These guys work so hard. To feel you don’t have the support of your community is a tough pill to swallow.”

A levy measure also failed in 2022.

“Most of the feedback we’ve gotten is that people don’t want to pay more taxes,” Schmidt said. “A lower level of service is the consequence. We’ll have to figure out some way to pass the levy, whether it’s next year or soon after that.”

Meanwhile, voters overwhelmingly passed similar emergency service levies across the county, including for Sky Valley Fire, the North County Regional Fire Authority, the Marysville Fire District, District 24 in Darrington, District 10 near Bothell and District 4 in Snohomish.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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