One fire authority ahead; other behind

The West Thurston Regional Fire Authority most likely will become a reality, but voters were split Tuesday on whether to create a similar authority serving Yelm, Rainier and the surrounding area.

The West Thurston authority would consolidate the Littlerock and Grand Mound-Rochester fire districts. Unofficial results Tuesday night showed it was passing 57.8 percent to 42.2 percent in the Rochester district; 58.6 percent to 41.4 percent in the Littlerock district, and 55.8 percent to 44.2 percent in the East Olympia district.

The Littlerock and Grand Mound-Rochester fire districts have partnered for more than a decade; the authority would formalize that relationship.

In the Rainier district, voters favored creating the Southeast Thurston Fire and EMS Regional Fire Authority by a 51.4 percent-to-48.6 percent margin. In the Yelm district, however, voters were opposing the proposal, with 43.6 percent voting yes and 56.4 percent voting no.

Voters in all districts involved in the proposed consolidations must approve for the measures to pass.

The authorities basically allow fire districts and departments that share a common border to form a single taxing district. Forming the authorities is different from merging operations in two key ways: A planning committee has more flexibility in determining how an authority operates and is governed, and voters must approve an authority.

Fire districts nationwide have felt the brunt of decreased property-tax revenue, which provides at least 90 percent of their annual income. As a result, many are consolidating or forming authorities. Those moves allow them to eliminate the costs of duplicate managers and office workers and use the money to hire more firefighters and improve service, proponents say.

If the West Thurston authority is approved, it will begin operations Jan. 1. If the Southeast Thurston authority is approved, its governing board will convene in 2010, but funding won’t be available until the following year. The agencies within the district would operate as they have been in the meantime.

Brian Sandford: 360-754-5425