Port Townsend, East Jefferson Fire-Rescue boards to consider annexation for February ballot

PORT TOWNSEND — City of Port Townsend and East Jefferson Fire Rescue officials have agreed to pursue annexation of the city into the fire district, which provides city fire and emergency services.

If both entities approve the agreement at meetings of their respective boards next week, the measure will be put on the Feb. 19 special election ballot.

Mayor Deborah Stinson; City Manager David Timmons; Rich Stapf Jr., chairman of the East Jefferson Fire Rescue (EJFR) and Fire District Oversight Board; and EJFR Chief Jim Walkowski presented details of the proposed annexation details Tuesday night to what Stinson called, “a light crowd.”

Timmons gave a brief overview of the months-long process that led to the decisions. He provided a recap of the three community meetings that were held to give the city input. He said some remain confused about who is annexing what.

Under the proposal, “city residents will accept the jurisdiction of the fire district,” for fire and emergency medical services, Timmons said.

“There’s some confusion about that. There are people who believe the city is taking over the fire district. Not true. We are allowing the fire district to have jurisdiction over fire and EMS services within the city. “

He said annexation would create an opportunity for direct voter representation and participation.

“The district is currently represented by three district at-large members. Under the annexation, the board would be expanded to five elected members: two from the district, two from the city and one at-large member.

“Currently, there is a joint city oversight board of city council members who are only there in an advisory capacity,” Timmons said.

“They don’t vote on matters related to decisions of the district.”

Timmons said that taxes would be collected directly by the fire district.

“Right now, it’s filtered through the city,” he said. “We have a direct contribution that comes out of the city’s general levy. We also have a special levy for fire services, and we also have the EMS levy. We collect those through the county and they are paid to the city, then are paid and transferred to the fire district.

“In the annexation model, the money goes directly from the voter to the county to the fire district.”

Timmons said the city’s general taxing authority would be restored and used for other city purposes than fire service.

“In the tax collection profession, banking is setting aside some of your taxing authority to tax in the future. It doesn’t mean you tax and then put it in the bank. You leave it intact for the future option to levy.”

The banked amount of $908,000 that is currently the amount of money raised for the fire district could be used for specific purposes beginning in 2020 if the measure goes to voters and is approved.

It would be phased in over a three-year period beginning in 2021 with restrictions on how the money can be used.

The banked taxing authority is restricted to funding only specific activities. They include local street improvements not eligible for state or federal assistance, new construction of parks and trails improvements, contributions to the housing trust fund, and utility tax relief with 2 percent supplemental for parks maintenance.

Timmons said there would be a penalty if the banked money is used for any other purpose. It would equal the same amount used and would be paid to the fire district as a violation of the annexation agreement.

The February date proposed for the vote is eyed to prevent the measure being on ballots in August and November, which Timmons said are typically partisan.

“We felt February is a time for local ballot measures to be looked at and discussed. It also gives the district time to have the ballot measure certified so that the first initial levy can go into effect in 2020 under the new consolidated district.

“If voters approve, “the governance will take effect immediately following the election certification. Around March, the city will be part of the district.”

Stapf was optimistic about his board’s vote.

“From the district’s perspective, we have a unanimous board decision made last week that we support the Feb. 19 ballot measure,” he said.

“Our regular Oct. 17 meeting will have these other things before us for approval. I’m sure we will have unanimous approval on those as well.”

A recording of the meeting and Timmon’s powerpoint presentation are available on the city’s website at www.cityofpt.us.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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