The Westport Fire Department and four surrounding fire districts will ask the voters in August to form a Regional Fire Authority along the South Beach.
Westport Fire Chief Dennis Been told the city council at their meeting yesterday afternoon, “On Day One we’re still going to operate the way we’ve always operated.” Benn fielded questions during a brief presentation. He said the consolidation is not a new idea, “We can reduce redundancies creating short to long term savings, increase granting opportunities while decreasing liability and maintaining proportional control.”
If adopted, a Regional Fire Authority would form over the districts, who would then go back to the voters to dissolve their individual taxing authority. Districts affected are Grays Harbor County Fire Protection District 3 in rural Westport, 11 in Grayland, and 14 which covers Markham, Ocosta, and Bay City, along with Pacific County Fire Protection District #5 which covers North Cove, and Tokeland, and the city of Westport Fire Department.
With the current patchwork of fire districts, Benn said there is an overlap of services in some areas and a lack of manpower in other areas. “We have five taxing agencies levying three taxes [each] to fund six organizations.” Each fire department operates under a mutual aid agreement, meaning that they already respond to each other’s larger calls, and back each other up when an agency is on a single call.
City Councilman Louis Summers asked Benn, “What is the new rate going to be if this passes?” Benn replied, “Well Louis the rate is going to be up to the board and up to the voters. It’s going to be up to the board to approve or disapprove the budget [annually] just like they do today, and then it’s up to the voters to say ‘yes I agree that this is what we should be paying for fire protection.'”
Staff explained yesterday that, if approved, initial levy rates will be adopted with the RFA and in most districts that will mean a decrease in the levy tax on their real estate. Residents in the city of Westport could pay as much or a little more, depending on if the city council decides to lower their basic levy rates once the RFA is in place.
The council yesterday voted unanimously to add the item to ballots in the August Primary Election. We’ll hear more from the city and fire districts in the coming months, as they work to build support for the change.