Ballot measures aim to simplify North County fire authority

STANWOOD — Efforts to simplify things at the North County Regional Fire Authority this year instead ended up getting a little complicated.

The fire authority in 2008 combined two fire districts, which still exist on paper but not in practice. It then absorbed the Stanwood Fire Department through a contract in 2012.

A new chief, John Cermak, arrived late last year from a previous job near Los Angeles. He wanted to improve transparency and communication at the rural agency. Unfortunately, the fire district now says he mistakenly shared some confusing information about the upcoming election.

The fire authority, which serves about 105 square miles north and west of Arlington, has two ballot measures scheduled this year.

Proposition 1, if approved by voters in the Aug. 4 primary, would allow cities and other fire departments to join the fire authority through annexations.

Another measure, planned for the November election, would ask voters for a change in the levy that supports emergency medical services. The levy, at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, would become permanent. Otherwise it expires every six years and a new ballot measure is required.

The measure that’s on the primary ballot would enable annexations. When the fire authority got started, state law didn’t allow for that. That law since had changed.

In other parts of the county, cities have annexed into fire districts to regionalize resources. Then they become a permanent part of the district, rather than having a contract or running a city fire department.

“It’s just to clean up the bylaws,” spokeswoman Liz Loomis said.

Earlier this year, the chief mistakenly concluded the fire authority was seeking a different ballot measure they’d considered but decided to put on the back burner. That measure would have dissolved the two old fire districts and allowed the fire authority to reorganize its board of commissioners.

Information on that proposal ran in The Herald’s primary election coverage in May and again last week.

The fire authority hired Loomis, a local public relations person, to help with its election matters.

The chief was new to the state and had simply gotten mixed up, Loomis said.

After this year, the fire authority may consider seeking voter approval for the dissolution of the old districts, Cermak said.

“We do need to tackle the governance issue eventually, but amending our plan to allow for annexations and then renewing our EMS levy are what we plan to tackle in 2015,” he said.

Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact Cermak at jcermak@northcountyfireems.com or 360-629-2184.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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