Top Ten Reasons We’re Voting No

This levy lift is NOT a decision that comes up every six years – just like other Vashon districts such as parks and schools. In fact, the levy lift previous to the 2017 levy was 33 years ago. If the Park District levy fails, there is no money for Parks. If the School District Levy fails, schools receive less money. If the Fire District levy lift fails, VIFR receives 1% more than it did the previous year. The Fire District receives 1% more every year, even if there is no vote.

  1. We Do Not Need More First Responders to Save Lives and Property

According to a survey of islanders who had used VIFR services during the past 5 years, found in the VIFR Strategic Plan, 77% rated the service provided as EXCELLENT. The same survey found 78% of residents believed a 5-15 minute response time after a 911 call was acceptable. It also found that 92% of Vashon Career First Responders AGREED! Since the average response time on the island, including calls to Maury Island and Tahlequah, is 7 minutes, VIFR already is meeting or exceeding expectations.

VIFR has continued to deliver superior service, even though it was understaffed. The understaffing will be totally addressed BEFORE the levy lift vote. With the addition of seven first responders this month, the exhausting overtime issue will be solved, with five first responders available for every shift. It is easy to see the EXCELLENT ratings will increase, while response time will further improve with this 56% increase in VIFR staffing, with No Levy Lift Needed.

The risks associated with simultaneous calls is greatly exaggerated. VIFR has been dealing with simultaneous calls for decades. It currently is staffed to handle two simultaneous calls. If a third call occurs command staff, volunteers and even Medic One is available to help. With two first responders added per shift this month, VIFR could handle as many as four simultaneous calls in the future with no Levy Lift needed.

All that said, the levy lift adds one first responder per shift. Period! There will be no great increase in personnel to save lives and protect property. 

  1. A Second Staffed Station to Speed Response for South Vashon and Maury Island can Happen Immediately

This month, BEFORE the Levy lift vote, VIFR will have the staff and resources to house two firefighters/EMTs at the Burton station. When the shift staffing increases from 3/shift to 5/shift, there is no reason those two additional first responders can not call the Burton station home. 

This is a VIFR management decision, not a levy lift issue. VIFR refuses to deploy one of 13 first responders from the main station to Burton. The 12 other first responders at the main station will remain to provide quicker access to the north end, while the new hires will be available to improve south end response times. With $1.8 million in the facilities reserve, there is plenty of money for temporary housing of our new first responders.  The levy lift will actually delay improved service and response time to the south end by several months, since the new levy lift first responders would not have been trained until the middle of 2024.

  1. There is More To 24-Hour Medical Response Than VIFR

If someone you love has a heart attack, or other life-threatening event on a weekend or after hours, 911 will dispatch the paramedics of Medic One as the first responders responsible for primary care. VIFR will be present to assist. 

With the new staff, each shift will have 5 first responders. When you include the two Medic One Paramedics, with life flight availability, three command staff and 15 volunteers, there will be plenty of first responders available, with no significant delays, even if there are two, or more emergency responses already underway, Remember, the levy lift only adds one first responder per shift.

  1. Insurance Rates Will Not Increase

Everybody on Vashon will save money if the levy lift fails. While the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau has been looking at our unstaffed stations, the addition of two firefighter/EMTs, will make it possible to staff the Burton station and avoid a significant insurance increase. The only reason insurance rates will increase will be if the Fire Commissioners choose to punish the island for rejecting the levy lift by not staffing Burton with the new hires.

  1. Delaying the Replacement of Fire Trucks and Ambulances Risks Lives and Property

Chief Vinci, in his Beachcomber article, claims VIFR has the oldest fleet in the County. He fails to mention the fleet also is one of the most underused. He states three vehicles need replacing. The supporters of the levy lift state two different frontline fire engines also need to be replaced. This sounds serious. 

While it is nice to pay cash for vehicles, if lives and property are at risk, why is VIFR delaying — especially since the cost of vehicles is increasing faster than the rate of inflation, and delivery times are also lengthening? 

With estimated costs for the five vehicles of $2.8 million, VIFR could have used $600,000 of its $1,082,000 fleet reserve as a down payment and financed the balance of the purchase. If it had been proactive and participated in the most recent Washington State Local Loan program in February, the financing costs would have been only 2.55%. The annual payments of $250,000, or less if they sold its surplus vehicles, would have been the same amount it has been adding to its fleet reserve every year, with no delay in vehicle delivery.

  1. Protect the Safety of Our First Responders

There’s safety in numbers at a dangerous fire or accident scene. State law requires four firefighters on the scene before anyone can enter a building to fight the flames — the two-in, two-out law. Two stay outside to rescue the firefighters working in the burning building if something goes wrong. 

With five firefighters on duty, three command staff and 15-17 volunteers as back-up, this is totally possible, even when resources are often drained further with simultaneous emergency calls. We are totally protected BEFORE the levy vote.

  1. Support Our Beloved Volunteer Firefighters

VIFR is not supporting our volunteers. Even though volunteers are dwindling, it is not advertising year-round for new volunteers. While there used to be as many as two Fire Academies each year, there will be none during 2023. By staffing 5 first responders at the main station for the remainder of 2023, well into 2024, it will prevent volunteers from sleeping at the station, thereby reducing available first responders.

VIFR already has the resources to provide modern, safe fire equipment, with more training opportunities for volunteers. With two more full-time firefighters each shift, there will be less pressure on our volunteers to perform.

  1. Think Like Vashon, Not Like Seattle

A long-range Strategic Plan is a great idea, however, employing a national fire department planning company was a mistake. While the island is generous with its donations, it still is able to deliver more, while spending less. 

The plan calls for a blank check that translates into a 68% increase in taxes over the next six years, after a 130% increase during the past six years. This request comes at a time when incidents have remained constant during the past eight years, when adjusting for the two pandemic years, and EMS incidents actually have decreased 14% during the past four years.

When the levy lift fails, it will be time for a New Strategic Plan that truly addresses our needs. While most people like Teslas, we can do just fine driving a Prius.

  1. Improve Disaster Response Readiness

VIFR will continue to work with VashonBePrepared, our Medical Reserve Corps, our Emergency Operations Center Team, our Community Emergency Response Teams, and our Ham Radio operators, even if the levy fails. 

Given a reasonable, on-going budget, VIFR will find ways to enhance the resources needed in the case of a disaster. We have pulled together during past disasters and will do the same in the future.

  1. The Levy Lift is a Very Bad Investment in Our Community in Many Ways

According to the VIFR Strategic Plan, the levy lift will increase taxes by 68% during the next six years, while only increasing first responder staffing by 20%. 

The Strategic Plan calls for levy funds to be used to replace vehicles and make significant facility investments. This is very poor planning. With inflation at nearly at 7%, and supply chain issues further increasing costs, it makes no sense to pay cash. Capital expenses should be funded with bonds, not levies. Bonds are fixed expenses that are retired over time and the expense ends. Levies continually increase and never end.

More importantly, if you truly support affordable housing and equity, you will know the levy lift is a bad investment. This unnecessary tax increase will hurt the elderly, people of color and our island low income workers the most. These three demographic groups bring historical perspective to the island and help “Keep Vashon Weird.”

Increased property taxes are the largest burden for island seniors on fixed incomes, who have spent decades retiring their home mortgages, only to be driven from their life-long homes by taxes. At the same time, the island is full of renters who can barely afford their current rent. An extra expense of $300-400/year, with additional yearly increases, is a big deal for all these groups.

Everyday these groups struggle to survive with less. None of their incomes have increased by over 100% during the past six years. How much better than EXCELLENT does our community need from its Fire and Rescue Service. Are we so selfish about a nominal increase in our safety that we would punish our most vulnerable neighbors?