Oversight costs firefighters $50,000

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

CA paperwork oversight has become a $50,000 mistake for the tiny volunteer fire department that protects much of the Tulalip Reservation.

Fire District 15 officials missed a Sept. 22 deadline to get a renewal of the district’s property tax for emergency services on the November ballot. The levy must be approved every six years by voters, or it lapses.

That means in 2001 the district won’t be getting the roughly $50,000 the levy usually brings in, nearly 15 percent of all the property taxes it collects.

"We screwed up and missed the deadline. But we’re not going out of business and we’re not cutting services," said Peter T. Walton, who has served for 17 years as one of the three commissioners overseeing the district.

Walton said the district, which fights fires and responds to medical calls in a 22-square-mile area on the reservation, may make up for the lost money by dipping into reserves and holding off on some purchases like new radios to replace aging ones. They may also seek further financial aid from nearby Marysville or the Tulalip Tribes, he said.

Those budget-tightening decisions won’t come until January, when the commission gathers for its annual budget session, Walton said.

The mix-up came despite a letter that county officials say they sent to every taxing district alerting them of the coming election deadlines.

"We sent out a notice to all the taxing districts in June," said Scott Konopasek, elections manager in the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office.

Walton said the commissioners take the blame for failing to set up a system to track when tax levies are expiring. He wasn’t aware of any letter from the county, but said form letters can get lost in the paperwork that comes through the door.

"Sometimes it doesn’t get the immediate attention," he said.

One letter did catch their attention, however. It arrived several days after the ballot deadline, and alerted them that next year they wouldn’t be getting any money from the defunct levy, Walton said.

With this lapse, Walton feared it could prove more difficult to get voters to revive the levy at a future election. To get the levy approved, they need a voter turnout of at least 40 percent of the number casting ballots in the preceding general election. It also takes approval from 60 percent of the voters.

Coming on the heels of a presidential election, Walton said it might be hard to attract enough voters to hit the 40 percent validation mark.

"The biggest thing is getting enough people to vote," he said.

The next election date would be Feb. 6, 2001, Konopasek said. But the revived levy would not become active until 2002.

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