The measure to combine fire and EMS services in Hoquiam and Aberdeen into one regional fire authority (RFA) has officially failed.
In the end, it came up 14 “yes” votes short of passage.
Even before the election was certified Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 23, the Aberdeen and Hoquiam city councils were preparing resolutions to give the plan another try on the Feb. 8, 2022, special election ballot.
If it were up to the 2,797 voters in Aberdeen alone, the measure would have passed, with 60.67% yes votes. In Hoquiam, 57.94% of 1,593 voters said yes, below the 60% supermajority needed. Less than 4,400 residents in Aberdeen and Hoquiam voted.
On Monday, Nov. 22, the Hoquiam City Council unanimously passed its own resolution to put the regional fire authority (RFA) plan on the February special election ballot. There was very little discussion about the resolution ahead of the vote, and the plan will be the same except for the official RFA formation date, now Jan. 1, 2023, if it were to pass in February.
As Aberdeen mulled its resolution to put the measure back on the ballot in February, Ward 1 Position 2 council member Tawni Andrews said low voter turnout didn’t help the initial campaign, and that more promotion of the plan is needed for it to be successful in future elections.
“I think they need to do some more door knocking,” Andrews said. “Every vote counts.”
As for the resolution to bring the measure to the February special election ballot, “We’re getting all the Is dotted and all the Ts crossed, so we could bring this back to the voters in February in the hopes it would get enough votes to pass,” Ward 3 Position 5 council member Liz Ellis said Wednesday, Nov. 24. “It’s such a crucial need for keeping both of our fire districts operational.”
The Facebook group Aberdeen Firefighters posted its strong debuke about the failure to form the RFA between Aberdeen and Hoquiam on its page.
“Years of planning, research, development, and citizen input to place in front of voters the option to improve their service by the formation of a Regional Fire Authority, has unfortunately failed by 14 votes,” the post states. “This measure needed a 60% majority. The final vote total was 59.68%.”
Aberdeen Ward 2 Position 3 council member Tiesa Meskis said Tuesday night she wanted to emphasize how important the RFA is and how it strengthens the community’s EMS system.
“Without our EMS and fire, we are going to suffer,” Meskis said.
Ellis, who voted yes to putting the measure back on the ballot in February, explained how operating a fire department is very expensive and how it requires having enough trained people to respond to calls.
“At this point in time, both Aberdeen and Hoquiam are short-staffed, and running on fumes, and depend on being able to support each other so they can respond to calls effectively,” she said. “If somebody’s out sick, and they’re short a crew member, it really limits what they can do, whether it’s a fire truck responding to a fire, or an ambulance going out.”
Ellis pointed out how Harbor Regional Health Community Hospital is on divert status because it too is short-staffed and continues to see higher than normal hospitalization rates because of COVID-19.
“That means our ambulance many times has to transport a patient to possibly Elma, possibly Shelton, or farther than that,” she said. “That takes that ambulance out of circulation for many hours, possibly most of the day.”
Council mulls administrator
In other news, the city council also discussed the possibility of hiring a city administrator.
“The vote was to ask our financial director to put together some numbers for us so we could better understand what the cost would be, how the cost would be allocated in the budget and where the source of funds would come from,” Ellis said.