|11/21/2012 2:35:00 PM|
Voters overwhelmingly support Fire District annexation
Voters in Leavenworth and Chelan County Fire District 3 approved, by a 86 percent margin, the annexation of the city into the fire district. Fire District Chief Kelly O'Brien called the support overwhelming. During the low key campaign, he really never encountered any opposition.
"There was nothing but support for it. A lot of folks did not realize this needed to happen. They thought we were already one in the same," O'Brien said. "Some of that had to do with educating folks. Yes, this has been running smoothy over the years, but it is separate."
Since the city closed it's fire department in 1989, Leavenworth has contracted with CCFD 3 for fire services. The annexation means the fire district would collect taxes from Leavenworth instead negotiating a contract every couple years.
Because additional taxes will be collected from city residents for CCFD 3, City Administrator Joel Walinski said city taxes would be reduced by a like amount to offset the increase.
O'Brien said the annexation allows the district to do some long range planning, because their coverage area is more certain.
"It the city decides, at some point, they are going to have their own fire department, and we already made a plan to move on some project that included the city. Suddenly, that contract disappeared," O'Brien said. "It really made it hard to plan for the future without annexation."
Now, O'Brien said they will move forward with talking to citizens, community groups, making sure they are providing the service desired. The annexation does not take affect until 2014, so the next year the city will continue to contract with the fire department.
"From a service standpoint, I don't think people in the district are going to see any change. The fire district currently provides fire service. There is not an anticipated change in the level of service," Leavenworth City Administrator Walinski said. "In fact, it will probably be better because the annexation allows the fire district to plan longer term. That means they can put some goals out there in terms of improving fire service."
During the next year, the fire district boundaries will be redrawn, and taken into account by county and state officials for taxing purposes. There will still be some negotiations between the city and fire district over fire marshal services.
Walinski said they need to develop a new agreement for 2014 that covers plan review and fire marshal services, which are not part of the annexation agreement.
"One of the things Chief O'Brien and I have talked about is the fire inspections, how often those occur and how that procedure works," he said. "He is researching how some of the other communities do that. We'll put together a policy on those fire inspections and then talk to the fire board and city council."
Over the years, Walinski said he understands there was some angst between the fire district and city over some of the capital purchases. He feels it has been a good things the city and fire department has been able to work out those differences over the past 20 years.
"Both the fire district board and the city council had to be in agreement on this before it went to the voters," Walinski said. "The city council and fire board looked at how things have gone over the past 20 years. Seems to be going very well. Seems like a natural progression of things."
Currently, in regards the equipment at the fire department, some belongs the city, some belongs to the district and some are joint owned. O'Brien said there is an agreement in place so that the fire department can retain use of it.
"We will pay for all repairs until we no longer have need for it," O'Brien said. "At that time, it would go back to the city. The purchasing of new equipment will be the fire district's responsibility."
Presently, the city owns a ladder truck and one-half a fire engine.
For Walinski, there was one issue that came up regarding annexation. If the city would desire to have it's own fire department in the future, the annexation makes it harder, if not impossible, to do that.
"I think, if you look at the lay of land, and you look at the size of Fire District 3 and the municipal core and urban growth area, I don't know if, in the next 25-to-50 years, it would be cost effective for Leavenworth to have its own fire service," he said.
Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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