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PRESS ENDORSEMENT: Fire levy a big ask, but worth it

| October 22, 2021 1:00 AM

Northern Lakes Fire District patron Glen Seely has provided an admirable public service. Seely has done hours of research and concluded that Northern Lakes’ $2 million permanent levy request is out of line. He correctly notes that the $2 million will be tacked on every year, so it’s not a short-term commitment.

Seely is imploring residents to vote the measure down, believing the district is asking for far too much money with not enough bang going back to residents. And if history offers any indication, Seely isn’t alone. Northern Lakes has yet to pass a levy in its 21-year history, and this is the biggest ask yet.

We respect Mr. Seely’s work and his opinion. However, when it comes to public safety — particularly when every second can make a difference between life and death — we give the benefit of the doubt to those wearing the uniforms. The Press editorial board supports Northern Lakes’ levy request, with the caveat that something much smaller will need to be crafted if this one follows its predecessors and goes down in flames.

“I don’t like ever having to ask our citizens to pay more, but I’m confident when they hear the message they will understand the need,” Pat Riley, Northern Lakes Fire District fire chief, told The Press this summer.

The responsibility is huge, and we mean that literally. Northern Lakes covers 108 square miles with some 60,000 residents spread out in that area. The terrain isn’t always easy to negotiate. The weather isn’t always cooperative. And again, lives are at stake.

It’s true that Northern Lakes’ budget has increased significantly through 3 percent legally allowed tax hikes, plus extra funding because strong development has generated substantial growth dollars.

However, it’s also true that since the district was formed in 2000, the agency has handled a 700 percent increase in calls for service. That costs money — and lots of it.

Specifically, the district is asking voters to add a dozen firefighters/EMTs plus provide staff for a third fire station. The $2 million can’t be spent on that fire station, so essentially, the permanent levy override is aimed at adding professionals to improve response times and deliver even better outcomes whenever possible.

The Press has worked closely with Northern Lakes and the other fire-fighting agencies in Kootenai County and holds them all in high esteem. One of the reasons our region is so attractive to outsiders moving here is because it’s such a safe place to live, and Northern Lakes deserves a fair share of that credit.

As always, voters will have the final say on this request. Pass or fail, we’re confident Northern Lakes will forge ahead and continue to make the best use of its resources.

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