Due to so many misunderstandings about the Fire Authority Consolidation Issue, I posed some issues to SE Thurston Fire/EMS Chief Rita Hutcheson to address for Yelm Community Blog readers. She addresses them all here in her own words:
“After careful consideration of the current service levels and impending budget crisis, SE Thurston Fire and EMS chose to ask voters to approve the formation of the SE Thurston Regional Fire Authority.
KEY FACTS FOR FORMING A REGIONAL FIRE AUTHORITY (RFA)
Why South East Thurston Fire Authority is being proposed & what the Fire Authority would accomplish?
1. Thurston County Fire District #4 (Rainier), Yelm Fire District #2, and the City of Yelm are seeking voter approval to form the South East Thurston Fire Authority (SETFA) on the February 9, 2010 ballot.
2. Citizens living outside the Yelm City limits are currently paying $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This proposition WILL NOT change the current tax collection for citizens outside the city limits of Yelm.
3. Citizens living within the city limits of Yelm will see the same tax collection as district residents for fire services beginning in 2011. This will be an increase in taxes for Yelm City property owners.
4. City of Yelm citizens will be able to vote on all fire district ballot issues and will be eligible to run for Fire District Commissioner positions. Unlike a merger, which is dependent on a lead agency, South East Thurston Fire Authority proposes equal representation and a local voice for the citizens of Thurston County Fire District #4 (Rainier), Yelm Fire District #2, and the citizens of the City of Yelm now and into the future.
5. The South East Thurston Fire Authority Operations Plan provides for improved service. Service improvements include the capability to provide 24 hour staffing at more than one station which will help to decrease response times and will make it possible to meet National Fire Protection Agency standards that require at least 4 firefighters on a structure fire before entering a burning building. There will also be a reduction in duplication of administrative personnel and services.
6. The improvements (more 24 hour staffing and additional fire apparatus) will allow the fire department to apply for a reduction in the insurance rating for the City of Yelm, City of Rainier, and the unincorporated area outside the cities.
7. If voters approve the RFA in February, the new South East Thurston Fire Authority (SETFA) will replace the two (2) participating fire districts on July 1, 2010 with voter approved funding to take effect January 1, 2011.
8. Proposition 1 will be on the February 9, 2010 ballot.
9. Questions, contact Chief Rita Hutcheson at 360-458-2799.
CLICK HERE for a link to the RFA website, from Citizens for Fire Protection. There is an interesting video from J.W. Foster (Yelm Planning Commissioner), a paramedic firefighter in Tumwater who has lived in Yelm for many years. He worked here as a paid employee 9-10 years ago. The entire RFA Plan is also posted there.
Mission Statement of S.E. Thurston Fire & EMS:
S.E. Thurston Fire/EMS will provide professional, caring volunteer and full time responders for Public Education, Prevention Activities and all manner of emergencies. We will strive to effectively utilize all available resources provided by our community. We commit to the support, caring, and well-being of every member of this organization. We value compassion, integrity, respect, and support for citizens in their time of need.
THIS FIRE CONSOLIDATION MEASURE IS NOT A LAND USE ISSUE
Although no citizens ever came forward to the planning committee and expressly opposed the formation of the SE Thurston Regional Fire Authority, a letter was sent to the Nisqually Valley News which insinuated that, due to the passage of ESSB 5808, the formation of the Regional Fire Authority would allow the Cities of Yelm & Rainier to annex any property. These thoughts are fundamentally flawed. What follows is a list of Facts related to those concerns:
FACT: ESSB 5808 did pass the legislature and did include language relating to how a city may annex property.
FACT: Any statutory language enacted by the state legislature under ESSB 5808 will be binding upon cities and towns whether or not a Regional Fire Authority exists.
FACT: A portion of the annexation process described in ESSB 5808 calls for an agreement between the annexing city and the fire department currently providing services to the citizens in the property to be annexed. An approval such as this would currently require approval by either 2 of the 3, or 4 of the 6 fire commissioners currently serving SE Thurston Fire and EMS. If the Regional Fire Authority were to be approved by the voters, such an agreement would need to be approved by 5 of the 9 members of the board.
FACT: The proposed SE Thurston Regional Fire Authority will require everyone who is currently served by SE Thurston Fire & EMS to pay the same rate for fire service and to have a vote on bonds and levies. If you live outside the city limits of Yelm (Unincorporated Thurston County and the City of Rainier), you are already paying the $1.50 rate and will not be required to pay anything additional.
FACT: The creation of the SE Thurston Regional Fire Authority does not simply create a larger government. Instead, it would eliminate the need for the fire department to contract with the City of Yelm and it would eliminate the need to have some administrative functions duplicated.
FACT: By no longer contracting with the City of Yelm, citizens would be assured that every dollar that was collected for the needs of their fire department was going directly to the fire department.
Note: The Regional Fire Authority (RFA) ensures the Yelm City Council will no longer determine how fire department tax dollars are allocated for the citizens of the City of Yelm through the contract process. The RFA enables City of Yelm citizens to determine how fire department tax dollars are allocated by enabling the citizens to vote.
Specific quotes from the article:
1. “…with the regional fire authority [RFA] in place and SB 5808 in effect, then the City of Yelm and the Fire Commissioners could decide to annex areas into the city limits without a vote of the people affected.”
FACT: If the RFA is in effect there is no annexation issue. The RFA pertains only to fire and emergency service provision. The RFA will ensure emergency services are provided to all citizens residing within the RFA boundaries regardless of location within or outside either the Rainier or Yelm city limits.
2. “…think long and hard about turning over the power to decide who has jurisdiction over your rural property.”
FACT: The RFA has jurisdiction over fire and emergency medical services only. The RFA has NO jurisdiction over land use issues whether inside or outside city limits.
The RFA provides equal representation to all citizens within the RFA boundaries.
If anyone needs to register to vote, an application can be picked up at the fire station
SE Thurston/Fire EMS
709 Mill Road
The last day to register is February 1, 2010. All updates to voter registrations must be done by January 11,
2010. Again thank you for your continued support of this department. It is indeed an honor for me to be the Fire Chief for this wonderful community.”
THE YELM COMMUNITY BLOG ENDORSES THE REGIONAL FIRE AUTHORITY MEASURE!