Aberdeen-Hoquiam RFA plan not dead

Both cities moving foward to bring the plan back to February special election ballot

With some people still holding out hope the measure to merge Hoquiam and Aberdeen fire and EMS services into a regional fire authority will somehow pass when it’s all said in done, plans are already going forward to take another run at it in an upcoming election.

To recap, the measure needed 60% yes votes in both cities combined to pass. Aberdeen, as of the last count, was passing it at 60.66%. Hoquiam, however, was falling below the mark, 58.01%. Combined, that made 59.7% yes votes, about 13 votes short of passage.

The Daily World declared the measure defeated after the third ballot count Nov. 10, premature in the minds of some.

“Correction — it is currently failing, but it still has the potential to pass,” said Corri Schmid, Hoquiam finance director and the one who was charged with determining the financial impact of the measure on taxpayers in both cities.

A call to the county elections office indicated while some think it may take as few as 11 additional yes votes to nudge the measure toward victory, that number could in reality be 30 or more.

The measure’s last hope is the “cured” ballots still being handled by the elections office. Elections Administrator Scott Turnbull said Thursday, Nov. 18, there were about seven left to process. Cured ballots are those that are missing a signature or have some other correctable error that could make them valid if the voter checks his or her ballot status and makes those corrections.

If that’s the case, chances of the measure passing this election cycle are very slim. But if it doesn’t, both cities are planning to move forward with another push to put it on the February special election ballot.

“A resolution to put the measure back on the ballot in February has been drafted for both cities and will be considered by both the Aberdeen and Hoquiam city councils next week,” said Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay.

The plan has had overwhelming support from both councils. In late July, the Aberdeen City Council passed the ordinance to put the plan on the ballot by a vote of 10-2; two days earlier, the Hoquiam City Council unanimously passed their ordinance.

It’s unusual for any measure in Aberdeen or Hoquiam with the word “fire” attached to it to fail. Just what happened with the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority measure?

”The key thing would be for us to improve our communications with the public to educate them on what this is/why it needs to happen,” said Schmid.

There were two public meetings that were lightly attended early in the campaign, one in Hoquiam and another in Aberdeen. There was also some campaigning done by the fire unions, mostly through their own Facebook pages. A few signs could be seen scattered through both cities in support of the measure, but other than that, there wasn’t a lot of campaigning done.

Schmid said future campaigning would be stressing the fact that the local fire unions are behind the measure, which would add six personnel to the “chronically understaffed” fire and EMS services in the region.

A large part of the negative feelings toward the measure dealt with the funding mechanism. There was a new fee added to fund the fire authority, a benefits charge it was called, based on the square footage of buildings within the service area. Using the example of a $150,000 home, the annual increase in property taxes would have been $338.13 in Aberdeen and $332 in Hoquiam.

The Aberdeen Firefighters Facebook page included a post Nov. 17, telling the community that firefighters will continue their mission in both cities, to provide the best service possible.

”Updated election numbers are coming soon. Since election night this has been a close race. A majority of you support the (Regional Fire Authority). However the vote needs a 60% supermajority. We are 13 votes behind as of last ballot count. Fingers are crossed that after all the votes are counted and verified your approval will be confirmed. Thank you again for your continued positive energy and support.”

The final count and election certification will take place by 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23.