Lacey Fire District 3 needs more commissioners

Voters will be asked to expand the number of fire commissioners in Lacey Fire District 3 from three to five when they vote in the Aug. 17 primary.

Without a doubt, a “yes” vote on Proposition 1 is the right course of action.

In April, voters approved expansion of the fire district boundaries to include the City of Lacey. The vote was overwhelming: an 84 percent “yes” vote within the old district boundaries and 86 percent in favor inside the City of Lacey.

Overnight, the population served by the fire district grew from 46,350 to 85,600.

The sheer size of the district — it represents about one-third of Thurston County’s population — makes a compelling case to broaden the representation on the fire commission board.

The board is the voters’ direct link to a fire district with an annual operating budget of $12.5 million, primarily financed by property taxes. The board is the link between the fire department and the public, ensuring that district policies and procedures provide efficient, timely fire and life safety services.

There’s another convincing reason to support Proposition 1. Implicit in the decision to annex Lacey into the fire district was a pre-annexation agreement between the city and the fire district to ask the voters to expand the board to five members. In many respects, a “yes” vote in the primary election for Proposition 1 completes the new relationship between the fire department and the city.

The voters pamphlet statement in favor of Proposition 1 speaks volumes. It was written and endorsed by the three sitting commissioners, who all said they want and need a stronger, enhanced voice from the fire district community-at-large, whose population has grown by 85 percent with the annexation. Lacey city officials are also on the record in support of expanded representation. Take a look at the voters pamphlet. No one could be found to write a statement in opposition to the measure, adding even more evidence that the fire district commission expansion is the right thing to do.

A favorable vote on Aug. 17 will create two vacancies on the fire commission board and set in motion a string of actions as required by state law. Here’s how the board will be reshaped.

First, the three sitting fire commissioners will appoint a qualified person to fill one vacant position.

Next, the four commissioners will appoint a fifth commissioner.

If for some unexpected reason the four commissioners can’t agree on an appointee, the decision falls on the Thurston County commissioners to make the appointment.

Once the two new members are seated, they will flip a coin, if you will, to determine their respective terms. One of the newly formed commissioner positions will be open for election in the 2011 fire district election, along with one of the current commissioners. The other new post will be up for grabs in 2013, as will another of the current commissioners. The fifth commissioner position will be filled in the 2015 election.

It’s a little convoluted, but in the end the fire district will be served by five commissioners serving staggered, six-year terms, allowing plenty of opportunity for citizens to get involved.

For the past month, two volunteers from the expanded fire district have been sitting on the board, but they don’t have authority to vote. It’s time to move forward with full-fledged expansion of the board.

The fire district will experience a small increase in operating expenses with a five-member board. That’s because elected officials serving on junior taxing districts will earn $104 per each day performing fire district business, up to a limit of about $10,000 per year.

It’s a small price to pay for the broader representation of the public in the affairs of the county’s largest fire district.