A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

On fourth try, Arlington Heights voters overwhelmingly pass fire levy

Meanwhile, in another ballot that gave North County voters deja vu, Lakewood voters appeared to pass two levies for school funding.

EVERETT — The fourth time was the charm for the rural Arlington Heights fire district, where voters passed a levy Tuesday to support a team of full-time paramedics and better services.

Initial election results Tuesday night showed 68.12% of voters approving the levy for Fire District No. 21, while 31.88% rejected it.

Fire Chief Chad Schmidt said this time around, knocking on doors and talking to neighbors about the election made a difference.

In the Lakewood School District, voters were narrowly passing two levies in the initial ballot drop, just two months after rejecting similar measures.

Lakewood Superintendent Erin Murphy said Wednesday morning she was feeling hopeful after seeing initial results.

“We’re just really grateful for our community coming out to vote,” she said. “Especially when we were the only thing on their ballot.”

A replacement levy in Lakewood aimed to maintain staff and extracurricular activities. A capital investment and safety levy focused on security and safety improvements.

The first ballot measure in Lakewood, which would keep taxes at their current level, proved slightly more popular than the second measure, which would tick up property taxes over the next four years. The educational programs and operations levy got 53.09% in the first batch of votes. The capital investments and safety levy had 52.03%.

Initial turnout for the more than 18,000 voters who received a ballot was 28.1%, according to the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office.

As of Tuesday evening, the auditor’s office counted all the ballots it had on hand, but there could be a few more to count after collecting returns from local drop boxes after 8 p.m. Tuesday, county Elections Manager Matthew Pangburn said.

 

Lakewood School District No. 306

Proposition 1

Replacement Levy for Educational Programs and Operations

Yes 1,777 53.1%
No 1,570 46.9%

Proposition 2

Levy for Capital Improvements and Safety

Yes 1,777 53.1%
No 1,570 46.9%

 

Fire District No. 21

Proposition 1

Property Tax Levy for Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services

Yes 1,301 68.1%
No 609 31.9%

Lakewood School District

In February, the school district ran two similar levies on the ballot and both failed. The district gave it another shot this spring. This time, instead of both levies raising taxes, only one does.

Earlier this year, the district refinanced decade-old bonds, saving millions in debt payments for the district. This freed up some cash, allowing the district to rework the replacement levy without raising property tax rates.

Murphy believes this change was a key reason the replacement levy passed. Since February, she said, district officials tried to simplify the way they communicated with voters about the importance of the levies.

If the initial results hold, the replacement levy will allow the district to collect $31.5 million over four years, sustaining a tax rate of $1.73 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The district planned to split the money among teaching and support staff, athletics and activities, special education, technology and professional development.

The capital measure aimed to collect $17 million over four years. It starts with a new levy rate of 87 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2025, rising to 99 cents by 2028.

Murphy said she recognized a new tax would be a huge ask, but that the district was committed to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Once the election results are certified May 3, the district will begin to look at staffing plans for the next school year, and how levy funding will fit in, Murphy said.

With money from the replacement levy, she wants to partner with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to bring a school resource officer back to the district. She said the district and the sheriff’s office have already been in talks about it.

As for the capital and safety levy, Murphy said the district has a long list of repairs to address with the levy funding. The first step is to decide how to prioritize repairs and replacements.

Fire District No. 21

With its levy passing, the rural Arlington Heights fire district will soon be able to hire its own paramedics, after years of contracting with neighboring crews.

The district had planned to hire its own paramedics with cash from an approved levy, once that contract ends July 1.

“It’s very humbling to know people are going to trust you with their money,” said Schmidt, the fire chief. “We want to be as transparent and responsible as possible.”

The levy aimed to increase property taxes for the nearly 9,000 residents within the district’s boundaries. The current levy rate for the district is 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The passed levy would bump that up nearly 50 cents to $1.40 per $1,000.

The district contracts with North County Regional Fire Authority for two paramedics. Since 2018, the last time the district passed a levy, calls have increased by 65%, according to the fire district. The vast majority of those calls are for emergency medical services.

The district also said the levy would increase staffing to better respond to medical calls, car crashes and initial responses to house fires. Currently, the district’s in-house staff only provides Basic Life Support services.

Schmidt said the department plans to have its own paramedic services running when its contract with North County Regional Fire Authority expires.

Last month, North County Regional Fire Authority sued the fire district for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid EMS bills, dating back two years.

Previous attempts by the district to pass a levy failed in 2021, 2022 and 2023 — though the gap narrowed from a 586 vote difference in 2021 to 123 last year.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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