Thurston County election officials on Wednesday certified the results of the April 27 election to annex the city of Lacey into rural Fire District 3.
It was a landslide victory for annexation proponents. More than 86 percent of the voters approved the annexation request — a strong indication of how eager Lacey area residents are to put this ugly chapter in local politics behind them.
An issue that had elected and appointed officials embroiled in a nasty, public dispute has been resolved with near unanimous agreement — charting a path forward that should resolve the dispute and result in continued excellent fire and emergency medical service both in the city and in the rural fire district.
It’s imperative that all involved commit to continued cooperation because the next several months will spawn a series of important decisions. Compromise and collaboration must be the priority.
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Lacey has not had its own fire department in its 44-year history. Instead, the Lacey City Council has entered into a contract with Fire District 3 commissioners. Under that contract, district firefighters respond to calls for service in Lacey. Combined, firefighters respond to about 10,000 calls a year — 80 percent for medical assistance, 5 percent for fires and the remaining 15 percent for miscellaneous calls ranging from broken water pipes to flooding and gas leaks.
The contractual relationship worked well for both sides for decades. Then things fell apart two years ago. Things got real ugly, real fast.
The two sides disagreed over the deployment of firefighting equipment and personnel, cost sharing and whether they could even continue to work together under the contract.
At the low point, Lacey council members voted to pursue their own fire department, fire district commissioners voted to close a pivotal fire station in Hawks Prairie and lawsuits were filed. Firefighters got involved and the dispute led — in large part — to the ouster of three long-serving City Council members and one fire commissioner.
That was the low point.
The shaken Lacey council took the high road, proposed that the city be annexed into the fire district and working in tandem with commissioners put the issue on the ballot for residents last month.
The resounding “yes” from voters signaled a new era of partnership. Voters don’t want their elected and appointed officials at each others’ throats and demand that they work together for the greater public good.
It’s imperative that those officials keep the momentum going.
The Lacey City Council soon will appoint two non-voting individuals to join the three elected fire district commissioners. Together they will come to the voters — probably in the August primary — with a proposition to expand the fire commission from three to five members. The goal is to give Lacey citizens direct representation on the board of commissioners.
If successful in the August election, the two appointed newcomers will step aside. The three fire commissioners will appoint a fourth fire commissioner and the four, in turn, will appoint a fifth commissioner. One of the newcomers will serve until the 2011 election, the other until the 2013 election, when voters will have their first opportunity to directly elect commissioners.
If all goes according to plan this summer, all five fire commissioners should be on the job by Oct. 1, just in time to set the joint fire district operating budget for 2011.
From the acrimonious feud has come a sensible solution — annexation and the expansion of the fire commission from three to five members.
Lacey area residents rightfully expect their elected and appointed officials to work through the tough decisions ahead with a spirit of cooperation. It’s time to put this dispute behind us.