PORT TOWNSEND — The work has just begun to make the decision to annex Port Townsend into the East Jefferson Fire-Rescue district, said the fire protection district’s chief, Jim Walkowski.
Voters in both Port Townsend and in the East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR) district outside the city limits approved the city’s annexation into the district in a Feb. 12 special election.
“There are numerous milestones that have to be attained as defined by the annexation plan,” Walkowski said.
“Specifically, there’s the expansion of the board of fire commissioners from three to five in an effort to equalize representation across the entire EJFR service area.”
A vote on expanding the board is tentatively set for the Aug. 6 primary ballot. Approval would be a simple majority.
City Manager David Timmons believes that better governance will be achieved with a five-member commission.
“A three-member board or commission is limiting,” he said. “It affects the ability to have meetings and does not allow broad representation. With only three people, you are basically giving two people authority over that governing body. It only takes two to be a majority.”
“Now that the interlocal agreement has been completed the City Council will appoint a liaison, a member of the City Council to help assist the commissioners,” Timmons said.
The liaison discussion is planned for this coming Monday’s City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at historic City Hall at 540 Water St. Timmons expects the council to make a decision on the appointment March 18.
If the expansion vote is successful, voters will cast ballots in the Nov. 5 general election to consider establishing fire commissioner districts. If approved, this will create five districts for the purpose of electing commissioners who will equally represent each area.
In addition, a succession process will begin with the current three fire commissioners and two others appointed to fill the vacant positions.
Following the succession plan, Walkowski said that, in any commissioner district with multiple commissioners, those serving the shortest terms will be assigned to a vacant commissioner district.
“As the terms expire, since that commissioner would not be a resident of the district, that commissioner would not be eligible to run for another term,” he said.
“Regardless, the five commissioners that exist when the commissioner districts are created will continue to have staggered terms and will continue to serve until their term expires.”
Walkowski said state law is very clear about how to draw district lines.
“The district will engage in a process to define [identify] jurisdictional boundaries of five commissioner districts,” he said. “The population of each is required to be approximately equal.
“We are confident this process will result in two commissioner districts in the city, two in the county [outside the city limits] and one commissioner district that will likely balance on both areas.”
Walkowski said the process of board expansion and the determination of commissioner districts and the election of two additional commissioners is vital.
“We are confident that we can develop the commissioner districts prior to the primary election so voters can visualize each district.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].