lEADER eDITORIAL- Annexation approval benefits public safety

Brian McLean editor@ptleader.com, Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2019 3:00 am

The city of Port Townsend needs fire and emergency medical services, and Proposition 1 on the Feb. 12 special election ballot would solidify its relationship with East Jefferson Fire Rescue District 1.

We recommend a yes vote from city voters to be annexed into the fire district service territory, an action that would equalize the rates city and county residents pay for both fire and EMS levies. A yes vote would also let city residents vote for fire district commissioners and pave the way toward an August ballot measure to expand the fire board from the current three at-large members to five members elected by districts, two of which would be entirely within city limits.


This fire annexation issue is a complicated one more than a decade in the making. The city dissolved its own fire department in 2007 and has since had a contract with East Jefferson Fire Rescue to provide those services. The city planned from the beginning to be included into fire district territory, but state law requires voter approval.


County residents who live in the fire district pay voter-approved rates for fire and EMS levies, which are itemized in their individual property tax bills. City residents pay for fire and EMS services based on a council-approved general property tax levy and a special-purpose property tax levy. That money goes into the city general fund before it’s allocated to the fire district. Annexation would simplify that process and eliminate the city’s special-purpose tax levy.


Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The city will retain in its general property tax — it can’t eliminate the tax due to state laws — the annual portion, $908,000 in 2018, allocated to the fire district, even though annexation will provide a different funding source for the district.


However, the city council passed a resolution last year to halt collection of that portion in 2019 and 2020 if the annexation measure passes. Consequently, city property taxes would decrease slightly during those two years.


In addition, the council has put limitations on how those funds can be spent when collection resumes in 2021. The money could be spent only on capital projects that include roads, parks and affordable housing. And the city could only collect up to 33 percent of the total in 2021 , then 66 percent 2022, before it could collect the whole amount in 2023.


Each year there would be a process for public input before the council approves the use of the funds. The council also could choose not to collect the funds at all.


Should the annexation vote fail, the city would continue to contract its fire and EMS services with East Jefferson Fire Rescue, and it would continue both the property tax levy and the special-purpose levy. But the city runs the risk of falling out of balance with the county in terms of the payment per capita, and it is obligated to keep up with paying the fire district.


Annexation of the city property into the fire district is an overall benefit to our region’s public safety and should be approved.

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why people are voting yes on annexation

Dr. Sandra Smith-Poling

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I am the Emergency Medical Services Medical Program Director for Jefferson County and have been since 2000. I see a significant need for consistent, reliable fire and emergency medical services between the City of Port Townsend (where I reside) and East Jefferson Fire and Rescue. Both entities have been working collaboratively together since 2007 and many improvements have been made in the provision of emergency medical services specifically. Since I became the director, I have been focusing efforts and initiatives in support of a County Wide EMS program so the entire county has appropriate and timely emergency medical services. Successful Annexation will provide the stability necessary to improve the delivery of high-quality, progressive pre-hospital emergency medical care throughout the peninsula.

Phyllis Leah Speser

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In February voters in Fire District 1, which is the district for East Jefferson Fire Rescue, and the voters of Port Townsend will have a chance vote on whether they want for formally unify the current EJFR service area or risk it falling apart at some point in the future due to city-county politics or a failure to renegotiate an equitable and fair contract for fire and email services between the city and EJFR.   What with aging populations, increasing tourism, global warming, increased urban-wildland interface, and a bunch of other things, demands on the fire department are increasing. Annexation means one tax rate for everyone and one vote per registered voter for commissioners. So annexation brings much more than secure funding and one person one vote in governance. It brings the ability to better engage in mid- and long-term planning, training, fire prevention out-reach and capital investment. Why is that important? I was a volunter frefighter in California. We can avoid a Santa Rosa or Paradise type disaster here it we do those things. We also continue to improve on our fire, rescue, and emergency medical services. All good things. So pass the word: VOTE YES ON ANEXATION.

Former Fire Chief Gordon Pomeroy

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I urge the voters of East Jefferson County to welcome the citizens of Port Townsend under the umbrella of the District’s taxing authority.  By voting yes on annexation, you ensure that whatever levy amount you are currently paying will be matched by the taxpayers in the City.


I urge the voters of the City of Port Townsend to embrace the measure annexing into Fire District 1, which will ensure all who are receiving services will have costs that are no longer uneven and provide for direct citizen input to the elected Fire Commissioners of Fire District 1.

Fire District #1 Commissioner Rich Stapf Jr.

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Dear Neighbor,      


I ask you to join me in supporting annexing the City of Port Townsend into Fire District #1.  I have been one of your Fire District #1 Fire Commissioners for the past 17 years.  For the past 15 years the Fire District has worked to create East Jefferson Fire and Rescue so that we could deliver better, more efficient Fire and Emergency Medical Services.  As a Fire Commissioner, I am tasked with strategic planning for our Fire District’s future.  This planning is hampered by the current configuration of the governance and funding models in place.  Annexation is the final step that needs to happen to solidify and guarantee vital Fire and Emergency Medical Services to our community.  Help us finish the job!  Vote Yes!

Jeannette and Dave Woodruf

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FROM THE LEADER


 PT should vote ‘yes’ on fire/EMS services   Posted Wednesday,  January 9, 2019  3:00 am     The fire and emergency services measure appearing on the upcoming ballot may seem complex. In our opinion, it is pretty straightforward.  The city of Port Townsend needs to become a full and equal member/partner in both the governance and financing of this vital service. The city no longer has its own fire and emergency services department. No personnel, no equipment, no buildings.  For several years, the city has received fire and emergency services from a coalition of neighboring fire and safety districts. Port Townsend has had a couple of courtesy “advisory” members who participate in board meetings, but they don’t have a legal or binding vote in the decision making.  The city needs to have a full, legal voice, and both the responsibility and authority that go with that voice.  I, Dave, as a retired school superintendent, former hospital commissioner and former chair of a fire and rescue district in three different communities, and I, Jeanette, as the former manager of the Cispus Learning Center near Mount St. Helens, believe Port Townsend residents of every age, health condition and level of income will benefit from this measure.  Consider the economies of scale in the high level of personnel training and experience, the level of quality and utility of the available and expensive equipment, and the distribution of coverage from a newly aligned fire and safety district as proposed by this measure.  It is 2019. The resolution of this matter is overdue. Port Townsend cannot go backward on this vital public responsibility.  Vote yes.  

Steve and Crystal Craig

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We fully support the fire district Annexation. Continued quality service, independent funding and equal representation between City and County residents are just a few of the benefits of a 'Yes' vote!

Lloyd Mullen

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From the Leader, Posted Wednesday,  January 23, 2019  3:00 am    


More than a decade ago, the city of Port Townsend decided to combine its tax base with that of East Jefferson Fire Rescue. But over the past 10 years, the tax bases have remained separate and it’s been a struggle to keep the books balanced.


The concept that two vital government institutions can combine forces to cover, financially and geographically, as much of the county as possible, and do so at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayers, seemed to have worked in neighboring cities.


But it turns out that a national financial crisis — the Great Recession — threw a wrench into things. At one point, the city found itself indebted to the fire department, and without the necessary cash it made restitution with an emergency vehicle worth about $300,000.


So how do we solve this plan gone awry?


The simple answer would be to merely revoke the tax that allowed the city to pay for fire services. But according to city officials, state tax law prevents us from separating the funds. We must either vote to keep the status quo — the city handles the funds and transfers them to the county (more administrative waste), or we start a new fund for the fire department and keep the city tax.


The city’s latest plan would tax its citizens just under $1 million a year, but those taxes would be abated for the first two years.


In the third year, the city council can start taking in about a third of the tax, scheduling it for capital improvements. That’ll increase by another third and then another, until 2024, when they can take the whole pot. If housing prices continue to rise, that’ll be over $1 million per year.


They don’t have to take the tax, but we couldn’t think of a time that a governing body hasn’t utilized a pot of money.


That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. The city of Port Townsend needs capital improvements.


Disagree? Take a stroll uptown and try to avoid a pothole. Our city is literally crumbling beneath our feet, and there’s something we can do about it.

A vote for the fire annexation not only gives financial power back to the fire department, it also gives the city the financial strength to fix its infrastructure.


You’ll be on the hook for roughly $175 a year if your home is valued at $330,000. It’s unfortunate we’re in this situation, but it’s the situation we’re in. If you want Port Townsend to be maintained, vote yes on the fire levy. If you want Port Townsend to be improved, vote yes on the fire levy.

Your elected council will decide how the funds are used, and they’re restricted to capital improvement projects. If you trust them — and you should, because you put them in office.


If you don’t want to pay an extra $175 a year in taxes, vote no — and then take a bucket of gravel and tar uptown and start filling those potholes for us.

Endorsements in the Paper