Secure Fire and Emergency Medical Services for the Future!
Annexation is a complicated issue, so this site is here to provide facts and clarification. Today Fire District 1 and the Port Townsend Fire District, the firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics work for EJFR. The engines, ambulances, and buildings, including the uptown station, belong to EJFR. A contact is periodically renegotiated with the City to ensure everyone served by EJFR pays the same rate and gets the same excellent service, regardless of where they live. Under annexation instead of paying Port Townsend City Government for fire and emergency medical services, PT taxpayers will pay Fire District 1, EJFR, directly. By doing so, they finally have a vote for the Commissioners who govern it. Annexation saves everyone money and increases efficiency by getting rid of the middle man, the PT City Government. Everyone's fire and EMS is out of city budget politics. That's why the City and District 1 - EJFR have jointly proposed annexation.
Getting the PT City Government out of fire and EMS is important. It is hard to do mid- and long-term planning and capital investment when budgets are uncertain and all those affected do not have a direct voice in governance. With warmer summers and dryer winters, climate change is here. Population growth has brought more extensive urban-wildland interface. That means the time is now to plan and invest for more severe wildland fire seasons in the future least we be caught by surprise like Santa Rosa and Paradise in California. We also have changing population locations and demographics, which means further adaptation and perhaps more staffed stations in the future.
The so-called “double taxation” is a red herring. There will be no double taxation. PT taxpayers will only be taxed once for fire and EMS under annexation. Yes the City retains its taxing authority under State law. That’s true whenever something is removed from the City Budget regardless of how big or small. This time however, the City Council has bound itself so it only can tap this part of its taxing authority for specified high priority needs constantly demanded by voters but currently underfunded. Further, for the first time I know of, they also are only allowed to levy taxes and use those funds under a specific procedure which includes going to the voters in advance to see if it’s something they want.
Vote Yes on Annexation. It means better representation on taxation and ensures excellent fire and EMS for the future.
Q: Doesn’t Port Townsend already have a Fire Dept?
A: No. EJFR (FD#1) has provided complete Fire and EMS service to the City of Port Townsend since 2007, when all equipment and personnel were transferred to EJFR as part of the agreement for services. It would be cost prohibitive and unrealistic for the City to begin providing for Fire and EMS services on its own.
Q: Is EJFR being forced to conduct the annexation by either the State or the City?
A: No, EJFR is partnering with the City on this initiative. Annexation is the final step in the consolidation that started more than eleven years ago. EJFR and City strongly support Annexation.
Q: Why change? What’s wrong with what we’re doing now?
A: Two reasons: Money and Governance - and they both affect EFJR operations.
Money: City tax payers pay less for the same services than those in the District. Since new construction and market-driven values affect City and District assessed property values and taxes differently, their tax rates gradually diverge. District taxpayers currently pay $1.75/1000 of their home’s assessed value to EJFR, compared to $1.55 in the City (including the contract payment from the City’s general fund.) This equals a $60 disparity on a $300,000 home that’s projected to grow to $84 by 2020. This funding imbalance between City and District must be addressed.
Governance: Annexation eliminates the cumbersome and outdated Joint Oversight Board that has overseen EJFR operations since 2007, and makes EJFR governance the same as other “special purpose” taxing districts - a single body of officials elected for that purpose by all the citizens in its service area. The City and the District have worked hard to work well together, but EJFR cannot escape the additional cost, work and uncertainty required to manage the contracted relationship with the City. Annexation means it is no longer necessary to repeatedly negotiate new contracts for service. In addition to improved efficiency, governance stability and simplification will facilitate long-term planning, hiring, training, and capital investment.
Annexation fixes all that.
Q: Why annexation - why don't we just fix it with a ballot measure like we did before.
A: As we’ve seen, contracts adjustments and lid lifts cannot maintain equitable funding over time. They can fix temporarily it but it doesn't stay fixed. Additionally there's the risk that a lid lift or other measure will be approved by voters in one area but not in the other, putting the entire relationship at risk - as it did in 2010.
Annexation: It’s the simplest solution. Plus it gives everyone served an equal voice in the governance of East Jefferson Fire Rescue.
Q: I live in District 1, outside the City. What will this cost me?
A: Nothing. Taxes levied in the District will not change as a result of Annexation. In fact, because the funding imbalance will be addressed, and City taxpayers will pay their fair share, emergency services become more secure overall. This is in addition to the operational efficiency gained through annexation.
Q. I live in the county and my insurance rating went down - why should I vote yes?
A. 1. This vote does not affect your insurance rating. In fact, voting no hinders the departments ability to work on future planning solutions.
2. Your service level has not gone down. The insurance rating may have changed, however, due toi changes in how some insurance companies calculate rates. EJFR now employs three more full-time firefighters since the previous rating and has increased their volunteer recruitment efforts from once a year to three. EJFR is hoping to address this problem. The financial security annexation provides is one part of the solution for greater staffing. Increasing the number of volunteers is another.
3. The rating change adopted by some insurance companies only affects the areas within five road miles of the Volunteer stations. This is not a blanket rating change for the whole service area.
Understandably, you may want to know more about this - please visit the EJFR webpage or give them a call. http://bit.ly/WSRBrating
Q. Who's Annexing who?
A. East Jefferson Fire Rescue(EJFR), legally Jefferson County Fire Protection District #1, is asking to Annex the City of Port Townsend. This means EJFR's District will legally encompass the city of Port Townsend. No zoning regulations will change.
Q. I live in the county. How do I know if this affects me?
A. Annexation only affects people who live in Fire District 1. So, for example, if you live in Port Ludlow or Quilcene or farther south you are in a different fire district and thus are not involved in Annexation. There is a map alogside with the borders of the areas affected by Annexation.
Q: I live in the City, what will this cost me?
A: It is estimated that equalization will increase property tax about $84 on a Port Townsend home worth $300,000 in 2020, the first year after annexation that EJFR will be able to levy taxes in the City.
Q. OK. So, I get that I need to pay my fair share. Are there any benefits from Annexation for City voters and taxpayers besides ensuring continued great fire and emergency medical service?
A: First, City Council representatives on the Joint Board do not have the same authority as the Fire Commissioners elected by District voters. They can only “advise” on personnel and budget issues, and on the timing and amount of proposed ballot measures.
Second, “special purpose” taxing districts like Jefferson PUD or Jefferson Healthcare are governed by a single body of officials elected for that purpose. EJFR must answer to two.
Third, City voters have no direct say in the operations of EJFR - their authority is through their elected representatives on City Council who are not elected for this purpose. Annexation fixes all this, streamlining EJFR operations and treating all voters in the service area equally.
Q: I’ve heard this creates extra money in the City’s General Fund that I will still be taxed for.
A: Not necessarily. Upon Annexation, City levies for EMS and Fire sunset, as does the City’s contract for services with EJFR. But because the City’s general levy rate, including the payment for Fire and EMS services, is within the rate allowable for cities who do not provide those services, Port Townsend City Council retains its authority to levy the funds it was paying to EJFR. Whether or not those funds are levied, and for what purpose, will be up to the elected members of City Council.
Q: So, doesn’t that mean that City Council can do whatever it wants?
A: Council’s authority to levy these funds cannot be taken away, but as part of the Annexation agreement with EJFR, City Council has committed to how these funds may be levied in the future and what they may be levied for. Additionally, they have adopted an expanded budget process so that City voters may weigh in on these decisions before they are adopted as part of the budget. Specifically: Resolution 18-052, adopted in October 2018, specifies that:
Any or all of the $908,724 can only be levied and spent for:
Note these are the things that citizens most often complain about due to inadequate funding in the City budget.
If there are levies, Resolution 18-062, adopted in December 2018, further specifies that:
In 2004, the City began a deliberate and purposeful process to consolidate the Port Townsend Fire Department with East Jefferson Fire Rescue (EJFR). Both entities entered into an Interlocal Agreement in January 2007 to provide fire and emergency services to the City. Dissolution of the Port Townsend Fire Department was deemed necessary in an effort to reduce redundancy, streamline the delivery of fire/emergency medical services and achieve economies of scale.
Parties contemplating annexation are required to do so in accordance with RCW Chapter 52.04 (Annexation of proximate city or town - procedure).
Yes. The current Interlocal Agreement between the City and EJFR has been in-place for 11 years. The ILA is an enabling agreement, not a long-term solution. In Washington State, there are only a few methods to combine fire service entities; this proposed annexation is one of those options.
There are a number of expected benefits of annexation, including expansion of the Board of Fire Commissioners to include voting representation from the City (which currently doesn’t exist), consolidating the City and EJFR’s Fire and EMS budget processes into one, eliminating the risk associated with negotiated contracted services and ensuring tax levy parity between City and EJFR tax payers.
No. EJFR is a Special Taxing District separate and distinct from the City of Port Townsend. In fact, annexation will remove the City from its role in the funding stream to the District. Now, taxpayer dollars are collected by the county, then a portion of those dollars are forwarded to the city which then pays the funding expenses for Fire and EMS to EJFR. After annexation, taxpayer dollars will go straight from the County to EJFR.
No. Annexation is intended to improve the level of service within the City and throughout the entire EJFR service area.
If annexation is approved, the Fire District would benefit from an adjustment to equalize levy rates between the District and the City. This adjustment is anticipated to generate approximately $298,000.
Proceeds from this adjustment will go towards improving District-wide Fire and Life Safety initiatives. Specifically, funds would be utilized to enhance Fire Code Management Services, consisting of plan review, code enforcement and fire investigation services with a goal of reducing community life, property and other loss due to fire. It’s anticipated that EJFR will create and staff a new position to act in this fire prevention capacity.
One current challenge facing EJFR is increasing call volume. The number of incidents rose 43%, from 3,353 in 2011 to 4,799 in 2017. A portion of revenues received could be allocated to new programs designed to improve the reliability and availability of emergency response personnel. One such program is a mobile integrated healthcare (Community of Care Initiative) delivery model in cooperation with other community healthcare partners. The delivery model will require the creation of a single-role EMS responder position within EJFR. These new EMS positions, six in all, are slated to be rolled out in 2019 and will consist of Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics.
No. EJFR intends to initiate a strategic planning process before the end of 2018 which will include evaluation of capital needs such as facilities, apparatus, equipment, and personnel needs.
The financial impact of annexation depends on where you live. For residents of the unincorporated area outside the City, your levy rates for Fire and EMS will remain unchanged after annexation.
Q. I understand that an affirmative vote to approve annexation to the Fire District will result in a property tax increase? Is this correct?
A. Yes, it does in two ways. First, there will be an increase that will benefit the Fire District only. This is a result of the two-current taxing District's (City and Fire District) becoming one and the current tax rate of the District being applied to the City. This is an equalization adjustment that City residents will be assessed to be on par with District residents. This will pay for additional fire services District-wide. The second is the City's property taxing authority that currently pays for fire services that remain following approval of annexation. The City pays for fire services to the District in two ways: (1) A General property tax levy of $908,000/yr; (2) and a special purpose property tax levy of $729,574/yr. Following approval of annexation, the Special Purpose Levy will go away, but the City's General property tax authority is retained.
Q. Does this mean that the City can still assess the $908,000 in property taxes?
A. Yes, it does. The City Council will still have authority to levy any amount it deems necessary each year following annexation.
Q. Can we vote to limit this? A. No, Washington does not allow a property tax levy amount to be voted upon once it has been established. The only one that can adjust the amount to be levied is the City Council.
Q. Is there a way to restrict this from being levied?
A. Yes, the City Council has put in place a means to limit its authority to levy this property tax authorization for a period of 5 years.
Q. How does that work?
A. The City Council cannot bind a future Council forever from doing its duties, but it can limit what a future Council can do for a limited period of time. In this case, the Council has adopted an enforceable policy that limits the Council's tax authority. The policy is accessible in the below link for resolution 18-052 Exhibit A. It provides that the City will not assess any of the $908,000 increase in 2020 (the first year it would go into effect if annexation is approved). Thereafter starting in 2021 through 2024 the Council will have limited authority as provided for by the policy. The policy requires that any amount of the $908,000 be phased in at a rate not to exceed 33% per each year starting in 2021. Further, it restricts what the money can be used for as outlined in the adopted policy.
Q. How can I be assured this policy will be followed?
A. The City's policy also has a transparency provision that includes enhanced public notice and public process. In addition to the regular public process for the annual property tax levy actions by the City Council, the policy requires a separate public notice and process starting in June of preceding year for the City Council to consider using any of the $908,000 starting in 2021 through 2022 (note there is no levy allowed in 2020). So, in June of 2020, the City Manager is required to submit a proposal regarding any decision to use any of the $908,000. This will include whether to levy nothing at all or any portion thereof consistent with the annual policy limits. The City Manager shall also include the proposed use of the taxes to City Council. It is up to the City Council to accept or modify the City Manager's proposal. The City Council prior to acting shall announce its intentions and provide an enhanced public notice of its intent. Based upon the City Council's findings, following public input, the City Council will instruct the City Manager to include within the budget to be submitted for the following year their recommendation as it relates to the $908,000. This can also include a recommendation to not levy any of the $908,000.
Q. So how does this get enforced?
A. The City Council entered into a binding contract with the Fire District that provides a penalty if the City Council does not follow its policy. The penalty is equal to the amount of money that Council levies that do not comply with the policy and is payable to the Fire District. Also, any City or District taxpayer can ask the court to intervene if the parties do not abide by the agreement. In addition, each year the City is audited by the State Auditor's Office. This would be reviewed by them for compliance each year and they would issue a report if they found the City, not in compliance.