Fire district to assess coverage after levy denial

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Staff Writer

Money questions were a mixed bag as far as results during Tuesday's primary election.

The Northern Lakes Fire District override levy proposal was defeated by voters, while bonds floated by Spirit Lake and the Greenferry Water and Sewer District easily passed.

A total of 3,325 voters (59.8 percent) supported Northern Lakes' $1.2 million permanent override levy, but that wasn't quite enough for the two-thirds needed for the proposal to pass. There were 2,233 votes (40.2 percent) against the levy.

"This initiative remains a very important measure to ensure that the fire district can continue to provide prompt and proficient service to our citizens and guests of the Northern Lakes Fire District," Fire Chief Pat Riley said on Wednesday. "Our administration will be meeting over the next few weeks to discuss options we can take to ensure (that) mission.

"In the meantime, our responders will continue to respond to emergencies, provide public life-safety education and train in between the multiple responses that occur daily."

Northern Lakes covers Hayden, Rathdrum and Hayden Lake.

The proposal would have allowed the department to hire nine new firefighter paramedics and to keep an on-duty crew ready to roll at Station 3 on East Hudlow Road in the northeast portion of the district. At present, the station has no on-duty firefighters. The proposal would not have paid for buildings or equipment.

A 28 percent increase in population over the past decade spurred an increase in calls for medical assistance and firefighting and the need for the funding, according to district officials.

The district also floated a permanent override levy in 2012, when in May and November of that year voters soundly rejected a $1.6 million ballot question.

Spirit Lake voters approved 188-115 a $1.8 million bond levy proposal for wastewater treatment improvements. The proposal gained 62.1 percent approval and a simple majority was needed for the proposal to pass.

The bond will add a 25-million-gallon lagoon, increase efficiencies to the land application irrigation system and enhance the biological treatment process.

The city last year imposed a growth moratorium that still is in effect due to sewer capacity issues.

The 40-year bond will increase the monthly sewer bill $2 per month to repay the construction loan.

The city also plans this summer to increase the sewer rate $3 per month for maintenance and operation of the system. That was planned to be implemented regardless of whether the bond passed. The two increases will increase the monthly sewer bills a total of $5 from $26 to $31.

Communities in North Idaho with similar systems have rates of $45 to $50 per month.

Since the last improvement to the city's wastewater treatment facility in 2002, there has been a 57 percent increase in population growth, according to city officials. As a result, the facility is at capacity, which forced the city to issue a sewer moratorium on new growth.

The wastewater facility is a land-based system in which, after treatment, the effluent is irrigated onto agriculture fields and forest crops.

Meanwhile, voters in the Greenferry Water and Sewer District south of Post Falls on the Spokane River approved 105-25 (80.8 percent) a bond proposal. The measure required a simple majority vote to pass.

The district, which serves about 400 homeowners, asked voters for permission to issue and sell its water revenue bonds of up to $1.8 million to replace undersized and aging waterlines, improve fire protection and allow additional hookups.

The cost per household in the Greenferry Water and Sewer District east of Spokane Street along Riverview is $15 per month, which had already been assessed on each household since 2016 for capital repairs and replacement.

With the bond, there will be no increase in current rates, but the proposal's approval allows the district to make major improvements all at once, rather than piecemeal.

"(The board worked very hard for two years, listening to residents' concerns and getting the word out on why the system needs the upgrade," said John Austin, the district's accountant and manager. "Most of the system is over 40 years old so it's past due to receive an upgrade."

Construction should start this year, Austin said.

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