Despite two failed attempts to create the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority, city officials want to give it another go.
On Wednesday, Sept. 7, Hoquiam Fire Chief Matt Miller, Aberdeen Fire Chief Dave Golding, and Cosmopolis Mayor Kyle Pauley were all vocal in letting Cosmopolis residents know why the RFA is essential for the area. Other city officials, including Corri Schmid, financial director for the city of Hoquiam, were there, too.
The desire, and why officials from Aberdeen and Hoquiam were there, is to add the city of Cosmopolis to the RFA.
The main points that were brought up from the different officials were that the RFA would increase staffing, increase reach throughout the three cities, and decrease response time.
Changing the structure of local emergency medical services might cause hesitation for residents who don’t want to see their fees increase.
“On your property taxes there would be an EMS levy that the city of Cosmopolis and the city of Aberdeen are currently not paying, and that’s 50 cents per $1,000. As an example, on a $150,000 home, that would be about $75,” Schmid said.
In addition to the increased cost on property taxes, there would also be an increase to residents’ utility bills for EMS.
“On your monthly utility bill, currently, I believe you’re paying $6.75,” Schmid said. “That would increase to $26.54. These are all very rough estimates, but we just want to be open and honest with the cost. That, in total, is about a $19 increase per month that you would see on your utility bill.”
Schmid said the $19 increase per month on a resident’s utility bill would be the “big increase.” She explained that the utility bill is collected by the city, and then the city would then give those revenues to the RFA.
Pauley laid out one clear point for the residents of Cosmopolis that the cost for the city’s fire department will have to increase to cover the city’s needs.
“That’s what we’re looking at, is the RFA a good option for us and really is this something the citizens would want?” Pauley said. “Or is there another option where we just fund it in-house. That’s what we’re looking at before we put some sort of ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on if we want to be a part of the proposed RFA.”
Pauley is part of the Aberdeen-Hoquiam-Cosmopolis RFA Planning Committee, along with council members Stana Cummings and Miles Wenzel, and they have been since June.
“We’ve been kind of working through and looking to see how the plan would work with three cities instead of two,” Pauley said. “It’s an ongoing kind of back-and-forth. We haven’t officially signed on by any means.”
Pauley said Cosmopolis has not signed on to be a part of the proposed RFA, and how there’s nothing “official” that the RFA is even going to the ballot at all, as of Sept. 7.
The proposed increased costs lead to the question of why be part of an RFA. And a few of the reasons came from a study from Emergency Services Consulting International, according to Miller.
“It points out some of your good things and it also points out your bad things,” Miller said. “That’s what happened for us (at HFD.) It pointed out in Hoquiam alone, it says ‘You are underpaying your firefighters and you’re understaffing your fire department, and you’re under-equipping.’ Not holding anything against the city of Hoquiam, because we’re not the richest city in the world.”
But, according to Miller, those flaws are what the study pointed out. And, those flaws are not just in Hoquiam.
“The city of Hoquiam should have three more firefighters to manage stations. The city of Aberdeen, they said the same thing except (they’re) ‘down (seven) firefighters.’ That’s based on (National Fire Protection Association) standards, call volume, and all the ancillary functions that we try to provide.”
Those ancillary functions include public education, fire marshal services, plan review, business inspections, and more.
The study, however, just lays out the options. Picking the option is the city’s job.
“With that, it’s where our RFA committee came in and picked the RFA,” Miller said.
As far as whether more money can be added after the RFA was voted for, in case it passed, Schmid said it would have to be approved by the voters.
“We couldn’t just ask for money and just get it,” Schmid said.
In case the RFA does go to ballot, Miller said it wouldn’t be for a few months.
“Our goal is to take this to a February ballot,” Miller said.
There will be a city of Cosmopolis workshop at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, inside the “fire hall” at 111 D St., in Cosmopolis. The workshop will take place to further discuss the RFA.