South Beach voters showed overwhelming support for the creation of the South Beach Fire Authority in the primary election Tuesday, including a 77.39 percent yes vote in the City of Westport for Proposition 1.
The Regional Fire Authority would combine Grays Harbor County fire districts 3, 11 and 14 with Pacific County Fire District 5 and the City of Westport Fire Department into one. South Beach EMS Director Art Cole, Westport Fire Chief Dennis Benn and South Beach EMS Captain Daryl Brown spearheaded the effort to create the authority, stating it would stabilize, streamline, coordinate and preserve current levels of service throughout South Beach. It also, they said, would make it easier to coordinate training throughout the authority and assure each volunteer is given the same type and level of training.
The most current numbers available show the measure passing, or passed, by a wide margin in all included fire districts: Westport (77.39 percent, 291 yes, 85 no), District 3 (82.96 percent, 112-23), District 11 (84.96 percent, 192-34), and District 14 (67.98 percent, 121-57). In Pacific County, 84.21 percent of voters said yes to Proposition 1, 192-36 in Fire District 5.
Proposition 1 requires a 60 percent majority yes vote for approval, and is trending well above that. Still in question is whether proposition falls under the 40 percent voter turnout requirement, a state law that says an election that decides taxes or levies must not only pass by 60 percent, but must include at least 40 percent of the number of voters who participated in the previous primary election.
Cole, the fire authority’s attorney says the 40 percent is not required for Proposition 1. Pacific County Auditor Joyce Kidd said Wednesday it is not up to the auditor to certify the election but up to the fire districts to do so. Grays Harbor County Auditor Vern Spatz said the same, adding it’s been the policy of auditors across the state to leave those determinations up to the districts for the past two or three years. A spokesman at the Secretary of State’s office in Olympia said other than bonds or levies it’s not up to the state to decide what a local measure needs to pass.
The fire authority’s attorney, Brian Snure of Snure Law Office in Des Moines, distributed a memorandum late Wednesday morning to the members of the South Beach Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee for distribution to the public. It read:
“Issue No. 1: What is the voter approval requirement for the South Beach Regional Fire Authority Plan? Short Answer: Sixty percent without a validation requirement.”
He continued: “The South Beach Regional Fire Authority Plan requests voter approval to form a regional fire authority initially funded by a regular property tax levy of $1.50, a regular EMS property tax levy of $.50 and a one-year M&O excess levy in the amount of $591,000.00. The voter approval requirements for (the plan) are set forth in RCW 52.26.060 and RCW 52.26.050 as follows:
“RCW 52.26.060: ‘A simple majority of the total persons voting on the single ballot measure to approve the plan and establish the authority is required for approval. However, if the plan authorizes the authority to impose benefit charges or sixty percent voter approved taxes, then the percentage of total persons voting on the single ballot measure to approve the plan and establish the authority is the same as in RCW 52.26.050.’
“RCW 52.26.050(2): ‘If the plan authorizes the authority to impose benefit charges or sixty percent voter approved taxes, the plan and creation of the authority must be approved by an affirmative vote of sixty percent of the voters within the boundaries of the authority voting on a ballot proposition as set forth in RCW 52.26.060. Except as provided in this section, all other voter approval requirements under law for the levying of property taxes or the imposition of benefit charges apply.’”
Basically, Snure is citing state statute that outlines how to get voter approval of a Regional Fire Authority Plan, which is 60 percent of the vote if an EMS or excess levy is “included as a funding mechanism for the initial approval” of the plan, which the South Beach plan does. “The statute does not require any type of voter validation requirement,” added Snure, so the 40 percent requirement would not apply.
If it is determined the fire authority plan needed to consider the 40 percent requirement, it could become an issue. Voter turnout was low in both Grays Harbor and Pacific counties; 21 percent and just under 30 percent, respectively. However, voter participation is decided on a district-by-district basis. For example, the latest numbers from Fire District 14 indicate it would meet the 40 percent requirement, while Fire District 5 would not.
Neither county plans to count ballots again until Friday, and if Proposition 1 does need certification, that wouldn’t happen until Aug. 15.