Airway Heights voters to decide on the future of library and fire services

One saves minds, the other saves lives, says City Manager

(Airway Heights, WA) – The Airway Heights City Council adopts two Ordinances for the August 1, 2023 Primary Election ballot. The first ordinance asks voters to consider annexing to the Spokane County Library District. The second is to fund a new fire station through voter-approved bonds. The purpose of the ballot measures is to maintain library services, hire firefighters to respond to higher call volumes and replace the city fire station.

Airway Heights funds all city services – including the library, police and fire department – with a general property tax levy of $1.43 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The demand for all city services exceeds the amount collected by Airway Heights and is not sustainable.

“It seems odd to talk about library and emergency services in the same sentence, but both are critical to the well-being of our growing community. One saves minds and the other saves lives,” said City Manager Albert Tripp.

The city currently pays the Spokane County Library District $0.34 of its $1.43 per $1,000 general property tax levy for library services. If voters approve annexation, property owners would pay the library directly for service. This would allow the city to retain that revenue to hire up to four additional firefighters to respond to higher call volumes.

Fire Chief Mitch Metzger says the city is at the point where it has to have this conversation. Call volumes have increased almost 50% in the past five years (172% in the past 10 years). The largely volunteer fire department is struggling to respond to higher call volumes.

Then there is the issue of the city fire station. The facility was built in 1968 and has been renovated 10 times. Even with renovations, the bays are too small to house modern apparatus, such as a ladder truck to serve multi-story developments.

Firefighters are working with no heat and air conditioning in most areas. The station lacks adequate decontamination areas (such as showers and laundries) for firefighters returning from fire and medical calls. Decontamination areas are necessary to wash cancer-causing carcinogens or medical waste from firefighters and their protective gear.

“Calls have skyrocketed. We need to provide a better emergency response and take care of our firefighters,” said Chief Metzger.

The first ballot measure would ask voters to annex to the library district. This would free up revenue to hire additional firefighters to respond to calls.

The second ballot measure asks voters to approve a bond of $0.37 per $1,000 to renovate a building to accommodate a fire station and some city services. The city has signed an agreement to purchase a building at 1149 South Garfield in Airway Heights.

If successful, the purchase would be supported by grants from the state and federal government. Moving some services to the new location would allow the city to sell existing facilities and invest that funding into the renovations to reduce impacts to taxpayers. However, the sale is contingent on voters approving a bond to renovate the building most of which will be used for a new fire station.