PORT TOWNSEND — Voters approved the expansion of the Jefferson County Fire District 1 board of commissioners from three members to five, according to preliminary election results released by the county auditor’s office.
The fire district’s Proposition 1 was passing with a 68.9 percent margin, with 3,820 yes votes and 1,726 in opposition, according to the initial count of ballots Tuesday.
The proposition needed only a simple majority to pass.
“It’s wonderful to have that show of support from the voters in regard to the future direction of the fire board,” Chief Jim Walkowski said.
Voter turnout was reported as 31.3 percent with 5,566 ballots returned from 17,751 registered voters in the fire district, county Auditor Rose Ann Carroll reported.
The next count is scheduled to be released about 4 p.m. Friday. Election certification is expected Aug. 20.
The fire district, also known as East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, has had a three-phase plan this year, starting with annexation of the city of Port Townsend in February, Walkowski said.
Expansion of the board was the second step, a practice that is “fairly commonplace in Washington state,” Walkowski said.
The move guarantees two representatives from within the city, an avenue that previously existed only in a non-voting advisory capacity, he said.
The last time the board filled a vacancy was when it appointed David Seabrook after a commissioner resigned, Commission Chair Rich Stapf Jr. said.
“The board accepted letters of interest and reviewed those applications on their merits, and then they made the appointment accordingly,” Walkowski said.
The board will set its process during a meeting Aug. 21 to fill the two newly created seats.
In addition, the board plans public outreach before a general election proposition in November to ask for voter approval to create five separate commissioner districts.
If that proposition passes, commissioners would represent their individual district on the board. The current board has been elected at-large from within the entire district.
“We anticipate that our vote to go to commissioner districts would also be favorable,” Stapf said. “So far, the voters are pretty well consistent and on board with what we’re doing.”
Walkowski said a consultant has prepared a boundary map for the five districts based on equal representation in terms of population, gender, race and other factors.
Two of those districts would be within city limits, and two would be in unincorporated Jefferson County. The fifth would encompass an area that includes both the city and county, Stapf said.
“There’s a lot of technicality there and a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We’re just trying to follow state law and take it step by step.”
Once the board appoints two new members, an action that could take place in October or November, Stapf said, then different commissioners’ six-year terms would be up for election on a rolling two-year basis.
“This will be the last time we need to go to the voters for this whole process,” Stapf said. “But voters again will have an opportunity to vote on commissioners as they have in the past.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].