Mayor Deborah Stinson addresses community members who turned out Thursday for the first of three informational meetings exploring the possibility of annexing the city into East Jefferson Fire Rescue. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Mayor Deborah Stinson addresses community members who turned out Thursday for the first of three informational meetings exploring the possibility of annexing the city into East Jefferson Fire Rescue. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

First of fire district annexation forums gleans top issues from Port Townsend residents

PORT TOWNSEND — Residents participating in the first round-table discussion of the issues surrounding a proposal to annex the city of Port Townsend into the East Jefferson Fire Rescue district identified housing as the most critical issue facing the city.

Fifty residents participated in a forum on Thursday which was set to address community needs and priorities.

It was the first of three informational town meetings held by the city of Port Townsend. The meetings are designed to explore the possibility of annexing the city into East Jefferson Fire Rescue and provide feedback to staff and City Council before a decision is made about placing the issue on a ballot.

The next two meetings, both on consecutive Thursdays, will be at 6:30 p.m. at Fort Worden Commons.

In Thursday’s meeting, feedback was provided via voting Pulse Pads.

Among other topics were environment and historic preservation, economic opportunities, public safety/EMS, law and justice, infrastructure, arts, culture and education, health care and related services, parks and recreation and transportation.

Voters agreed that the value of each item ranged from important to critical. None were considered not important.

“Every time we make a decision we have to look through our community values and weigh all these things against each other,” explained Mayor Deborah Stinson, who led the session.

“These answers were not much of a surprise to us, frankly. It’s good that we’ve had that verified here.”

This coming Thursday’s forum will focus on finance and government. City Manager David Timmons will explain how fire and emergency medical services are funded now and how annexation will impact taxpayers and city finances.

On April 5, Fire Chief Jim Walkowski will head a review and discussion of the choices and options annexation presents and an opportunity to review what’s been learned.

Citizen input will be considered as City Council members contemplate putting a measure on an upcoming ballot to annex the city into the fire district.

Currently, the city has an interlocal agreement with the fire district that provides fire and emergency medical services to its residents.

Tax revenue collected for fire and emergency medical services go to the fire district to pay for coverage in the city.

Officials say that annexation would mean the city would have representation on the fire district board, as well as consolidate the city and fire department budget processes, eliminate the risks associated with contracted services and ensure tax levy parity between the city and fire district taxpayers. The present agreement would be dissolved. Service levels would not be impacted.

Voters in both the city and fire district would have to agree to the annexation by a majority vote.

“This is a series of progressions towards the details,” Timmons said. “We are looking at the bigger picture, working our way down to the detail so people can put it in context. That’s the key. We’ll get more specifics at the next meeting, then we get into the heart of it at the final meeting.

“We want to make sure that the annexation does no harm to the community values.”

Stinson said the results of the meetings will be presented to the council April 16 at a special meeting.

“Council members will discuss if we are going to do a ballot measure and when that may happen. That will be the first meeting to discuss it and make a recommendation, then ask for more public comment. We also have an option for another meeting on April 23.”

Bill Beezley, East Jefferson Fire Rescue public information officer — who was the moderator for the session — said he is gratified that the leadership in Port Townsend is giving its residents an opportunity to have their voices heard.

“It’s not always that easy on an individual level to tell your city leaders what you want to have happen and when you want it to happen in such a direct way,” Beezley said.

“They are saying, ‘Your voice truly matters and we want you to influence the decisions we make on behalf of all of us.’ They are doing this with their citizens and in collaboration with the fire department.

Although the turnout was smaller than hope for, Stinson was very appreciative of the people who attended and voiced their opinions.

“It’s hard to get the message out. We don’t text or twitter, we don’t use social media. It’s hard to explain the three meetings and what we are trying to accomplish. Maybe people felt they knew this information well enough that they don’t have to revisit it. But the new stuff for the taxation and options is what they will come out for.”

A video recording of the meeting will be available at the city’s website at www.cityofpt.us. Staff is also working on providing a way to allow users to answer questions and provide feedback online.

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at jmcmacken@peninsuladailynews.com.

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