Fire districts could be next casualty of SR-530 landslide

DARRINGTON, Wash. -- The deadly SR530 mudslide is proving to have other costs, including less funding for the fire districts closest to the disaster zone.

When the wall of mud thundered through Oso and onto Highway 530, destroying lives and property last month, it also affected the tax base for two local fire districts.

"It's all the peripheral stuff you don't really think about when something like this happens," said Chief Dennis Fenstermaker, with the Darrington Fire District.

Fenstermaker's volunteer firefighters have been in the thick of the rescue and recovery operation. The chief says they run on a shoe-string budget. Now he's learning the destruction caused by the slide will affect their share of property tax revenue.

"We're concerned about any loss of revenue," he said.

The slide damaged or destroyed 44 structures - 37 of them were homes. Because of that, the Snohomish County Assessor projects the Darrington Fire District will lose about $1,100 annually. The losses are even greater for the Oso Fire District, which stands to lose about $5,000.

Fenstermaker says he is very frugal with finances, yet his district barely breaks even each year with the money it has. He says any additional loss, no matter how small, could have lasting impacts.

"We might not buy something that otherwise we would want to purchase, maybe a piece of equipment," he said. "Or we might not replace something (until) later."

Slide damage will also cost local libraries, schools and hospitals some tax revenue. All told, the various agencies are out more than $62,000, with few options to make up the loss.