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Guest Column by Justin Paulsen: Why I'll be voting No on Orcas Island Fire District levy

  • Written by Justin Paulsen

The staff and volunteers of Orcas Fire and Rescue have been responsible for providing invaluable medical and emergency services for myself and my family multiple times in my over 20 years living on Orcas Island. Our dedicated Fire Commissioners give hundreds of hours of time to our community in what is a relatively thankless job – especially in the current political climate. To a person, every one of them deserves our community’s thanks and appreciation. That said, I will be voting NO on the upcoming Fire District Levy. Clearly, the Fire District needs a radical increase in funding, but this levy is about far more than just a “tax rate”; It’s about Trust, Structure and Flexibility.

In 2014, the Orcas community approved a levy lift that was intended to provide for the financial needs of the District for the following 10 years and provide a reserve moving forward. That Levy included a lump sum for Capital and Operational needs.

In 2023, we are now coming to a reckoning point that tells us that that levy was not sufficient. Operational and administrative costs have ballooned well beyond projections and inflation-driven prices have shot up faster than the state-restricted levy adjustment allows for.

We now face a Department looking at serious financial stress heading into 2025 and equipment that according to staff is “unsafe” in its current state. The current levy proposal asks us to follow the same path as the 2014 levy – permanently, but to expect different results. That is why I’ll be voting NO.

Fortunately, we have almost a year and a half to address the growing financial stress that the Department faces. The department is fully funded through the end of 2024 This gives the community time to work with the new Commission elected in November of this year to put something on the ballot that fits our community and the economy.

We will have the opportunity to create separate funding mechanisms that protect apparatus replacement funds from becoming victims of operational issues. We will have the opportunity to discuss creating a levy(s) which offers the District more flexibility to adjust for inflationary pressures. We will have the opportunity to work with a fully elected Board of Commissioners, a newly appointed Chief and most importantly the Public to craft a way forward built on trust and public engagement.

Please join me with a “NO” vote and commit to working as a community in creating something worthy of a “YES” vote in 2024.

Justin Paulsen