KIRKLAND, Wash. — Kirkland voters are being asked to pay more to upgrade the city's fire department and hire more firefighters on this year's ballot.
Proposition 1 would mean a 24 cent increase, per $1,000 of assessed value, to property taxes. The city estimates it would cost about $171 for the median home in the city and there's no expiration for it.
The ballot measure came after years of study and community input that started back in 2012. Mayor Penny Sweet believes the onset of the pandemic has highlighted some of the deficiencies with the department.
“It was quite a year for our fire department,” Sweet said.
Kirkland firefighters were some of the earliest first responders going into the Life Care facility to help transport residents sick from coronavirus.
"The way we were burning through supplies was amazing,” Sweet explained.
That ended up taking a toll on supplies and personnel.
“At one point, over one-third of our fire department was on pandemic leave because of exposures,” Sweet said.
Even before COVID-19 caused so much stress, community leaders were planning to ask voters to pay for station upgrades and hire more firefighters.
Now, they're asking voters to also buy more personal protective equipment (PPE).
"We are still in the midst of the pandemic. Every firefighter who goes on a call has to be dressed in full PPE," Sweet said.
The list of priorities includes replacing and rebuilding Station 27 at a different location, upgrading three stations, and hiring 20 firefighters. The outdated building they’re now using for Station 27 will be turned into a storage facility for that PPE and other supplies.
An opposition statement to the proposition was not filed with the County Elections Office and there appears to be no formal opposition.
The mayor said the pandemic made them re-think their timing but they felt they needed to move forward.
"We've asked ourselves that, we've asked our people that and the overwhelming response is we need to do this,” she said.