Yelm fire plan to get recount

A proposal to consolidate the city of Yelm’s fire district and two neighboring fire districts into a regional fire authority is headed for a recount.

Voters in two of the three districts passed the proposal in last month’s primary election, but it failed by more than 100 votes in the third district. As a result, the proposal failed by a combined 13 votes.

The Thurston County Canvassing Board scheduled the recount during a meeting Tuesday morning. The Thurston County Auditor’s Office received the request for a recount Friday, two days after the board certified the results of the Aug. 18 election.

The recount will be the first in Thurston County since the disputed gubernatorial race between Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi in 2004.

“It is a fairly rare occurrence,” said Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, who sits on the canvassing board.

Supporters need at least seven votes to change from the “no” column to the “yes” column for the outcome to change.

Fire Chief Rita Hutcheson, who would lead the consolidated organization, acknowledged that the proposal’s passage is unlikely but said supporters want to exhaust all options.

“With that small a number, the feeling was we just needed to be sure,” said Hutcheson, one of six members of the RFA Recount Committee.

The others are Yelm Mayor Ron Harding, Yelm City Administrator Shelly Badger, fire commissioner Jonathan Sprouffske, fire district office manager Kris Kelly and firefighter Chad Halterman.

The committee paid a deposit of $835 for the recount, although Wyman said the cost will be less. The county will refund the money if the recount changes the election’s outcome.

Hutcheson defended using taxpayer money for the recount. She said that as a result, public agencies won’t have to spend thousands of dollars to return the proposal to the ballot next year if the recount is successful.

State law requires recounts for close races involving candidates but offers no such provisions for ballot issues. Another state statute, however, allows a group of five or more registered voters to request a recount of votes “cast upon any question or issue.” The request must be made within three business days of the date the canvassing board certified the election results.

A regional fire authority allows neighboring fire districts to consolidate and put more money toward front-line response by eliminating duplicative administrative jobs, advocates say. Under the authority, property owners in all three districts would pay the same tax rate for fire and basic emergency medical response, $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The two fire districts began operating jointly last year. The city’s contract for service with the district is scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.

The outcome was unusual because voters in the city of Yelm who faced the prospect of higher taxes approved the measure. However, those in the Yelm fire district defeated it even though it meant no changes in taxes or service. Voters in the Rainier fire district supported the proposal.

Supporters attributed the result in the Yelm fire district to voters’ incorrect assumptions and the difficulty in campaigning in rural areas. There was no organized opposition to the proposal. Voters on the western side of the county approved a similar marriage between the Grand Mound-Rochester and Littlerock fire districts during the primary election.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427