PORT TOWNSEND — A measure on the Feb. 12 special election ballot aims to simplify the arrangement for fire protection in Port Townsend, according to proponents who spoke at a Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The ballot measure, which needs a simple majority for passage, will ask voters to approve annexation of the city of Port Townsend into East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR), which now provides fire and emergency medical services in Port Townsend by contract.
Mayor Deborah Stinson and EJFR Chief Jim Walkowski made a presentation to about 40 people at the chamber meeting on Monday.
“It has been a long process to get to where we are today,” Walkowski said. “Annexation will create one fire/EMS district and everyone will pay the same amount for the same service.”
He said the taxing authority would shift to EJFR in 2020.
“Right now, how it works is that the fire district collects the taxes and supplies the services to the district, and the city collects tax revenues and passes it through to the fire district. The fire district does not levy taxes in the city.”
Walkowski said there is complete equity in the services provided.
“There is no city of Port Townsend fire department,” he said. “An interlocal agreement was formed in 2007. All of our fire services, from the tip of the Peninsula to all the way to Highway 104, are EJRF. All of the fire department employees and volunteers are members of EJFR.
“We have one common platform. We have one fire chief. We’re streamlined. All apparatus are standardized. Service levels are the same. Response times are the same.”
He said three stations are staffed: one in the district, one in the city and one within the city district boundary, and there are three volunteer fire stations.
Stinson said the city has had a contract with the EJFR for fire and EMS services for 11 years. This vote gives city residents continued service and commissioner representation for EJFR policy and budget, and will pay the fire district directly from property taxes.
She said there will be no change in tax impact on the district taxpayer, but the city taxpayer will see an increase.
The current funding structure for EJFR in the city is a general fund of 59 cents per $1,000 property tax valuation, a special purpose fire levy of 46 cents per $1,000 with a total dedicated to fire for $1.05 per $1,000.
The city emergency medical services levy is 50 cents per $1,000 valuation.
The fire district has a levy of $1.25 of valuation in unincorporated Jefferson County and an emergency medical services levy of 50 cents per $1,000.
In a post-annexation funding structure, the city would pay the same rate. There would be a one-time adjustment of 20 cents per $1,000 property tax valuation to achieve parity, organizers said.
The median price of a home in Port Townsend is $300,000. At 20 cents, that would mean about $60 in additional property taxes.
This would raise EJFR revenue by $300,000 per year.
The funds raised would increase service levels across the district, including expanding the number of fire commissioners to five; expanding the role of the fire marshal for enhanced fire protection, investigation and plan review; provide services to city-owned properties for no charge; provide EMS services for the city during Emergency Operations Center activations and provide annual CPR instruction to a subset of city employees at no charge.
The remaining general fund levy authority of 59 cents per $1,000 property tax valuation does not go away, however, and could be put into effect for other uses.
“A council cannot tie the hands of a future council,” Stinson said. “We can’t pass a resolution saying ‘future councils, thou shall not touch this money.’ ”
Only upon approval by voters would the city be able to collect those general fund taxes.
Stinson explained that the adopted policy would restrict the funds to one or more resident-prioritized uses during the three-year period from 2021 to 2023.
The agreed upon uses include a transportation functional plan for streets, a non-motorized transportation functional plan (capital only), a parks and recreation functional plan ( for capital needs), utility relief (for park maintenance) and affordable housing (a contribution to the Housing Trust Fund).
“We will be holding workshops and public hearings for the citizens to come forward and discuss how that money, if it looks like we need to raise, how much and how we would propose spending it,” Stinson said.
“We’ll only levy it if our constituents say to,” she added.
Port Townsend resident Teri Nomura, former Jefferson County Democratic Patry chair and advocate for housing reforms, is leading a Yes on Annexation Campaign.
For more information, see www.yesonannexation.org.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]