LACEY - With a resounding vote of approval, a new era has begun for emergency services in the city.
Voters overwhelmingly supported annexing the city into Lacey Fire District No. 3 during a special election Tuesday.
In early returns, 85 percent of city and district voters backed the measure, a show of support that Lacey Mayor Tom Nelson called “fantastic.”
“I’d like to see my election with those kind of numbers,” he quipped. “That is really sweet.”
The measure benefited from the unanimous backing of the city, fire district and firefighters union and their effort to inform residents about annexation. A political action committee also mounted a campaign. The political action committee raised nearly $14,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission online database. The firefighters union was the top contributor, providing $5,000 to the campaign. There was no organized opposition to the measure.
“I feel like most of the people had a good handle on what the issue was,” Fire Chief Jim Broman said.
Kelly Perry, the president of the firefighters union, credited a “total team effort” and hard work by supporters to secure passage of the annexation.
“I think it’s a win-win-win,” he said. “It’s a win for our citizens. It’s a win for the city of Lacey and a win for the fire district, as well.”
While city residents may see an increase in their tax bill – the owner of a $250,000 home is expected to pay an additional $30 next year – they now can vote for Lacey fire commissioners and tax measures proposed by the district. District residents may see a slight decrease in the property taxes they pay next year. Both city and district residents will be levied the same tax rate for the same service.
The city will reduce its regular tax levy because it’s no longer paying for a fire contract; city residents will pay the district through a separate tax levy. The city has contracted with the fire district for firefighting and emergency medical response for more than four decades.
In early 2009, the city decided to part ways with the district and start its own fire department after a lengthy dispute over money and control of emergency services. The feud led to the temporary closure of the Hawks Prairie fire station and a lawsuit that since has been settled. The city reversed course and sought annexation after the election in November of three new council members who opposed creating a new fire department.
Broman and Nelson said the election brings closure to a period that they characterized as unsettling and disruptive. “I’m really glad that it’s over,” Nelson said, “that we can get back to the things that we do best.”
Attention now turns to the future of the enlarged district. The district may ask voters as early as August to increase the number of commissioners to five from three.
Meanwhile, the City Council will set to work to appoint two advisers to the three-member board of fire commissioners. These advisers would represent the city’s interests but would not have voting power. Nelson said he’d like the call for applicants to go out in the next few weeks. He would make the appointments subject to confirmation by the full City Council.
Christian Hill: 360-754-5427