Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority plan emerges

A plan that would merge the Aberdeen and Hoquiam fire departments into a regional agency has surfaced after years of discussion and work on the issue.

The plan, which was unveiled on Monday evening, July 12, at a Hoquiam City Council workshop, would create the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority.

But before that can happen both the Aberdeen City Council and Hoquiam City Council must endorse the plan, and then have the proposal placed on the November ballot in order for voters to decide its fate.

A 60 percent supermajority of voters in both cities would have to approve the plan because of the funding mechanism used for the fire authority. More on that in a bit.

The plan stems from a feasibility study the Aberdeen and Hoquiam fire departments commissioned in 2019 “to evaluate the potential for efficiencies gained by integration,” the plan states.

“The study revealed there were numerous opportunities to gain efficiency, avoid duplication, avoid cost, or otherwise operate stronger together than separately.”

The study, which was completed in October 2019, also found the “ability to respond to emergency incidents by each agency is significantly dependent upon assistance by the other agency. Each agency is significantly limited in providing fire and emergency medical services consistent with industry standards due to resource constraints.”

Additionally, the study noted both agencies are “challenged to meet the needs of their communities while meeting the needs of the broader region for ALS (advanced life support) transport services.”

The plan includes 10 sections and covers a number of topics, ranging from funding to staffing, response times, call volume and more. One of the most intriguing aspects of the plan is the section that deals with funding and finance.

Hoquiam Finance Director Corri Schmid went over some of the funding mechanisms during the July 12 workshop that was covered by Daily World reporter Dan Hammock.

The end result is that there will be a significant cost to taxpayers for the operation of the regional fire authority, something drafters of the plan feel will be offset by the addition of six new firefighters (or two per shift), an administrative position, and a medical services officer for ambulance services.

Schmid provided examples at the workshop of the increased cost on property tax bills in Aberdeen and Hoquiam to fund the regional fire authority. Examples of those increases were detailed in Dan Hammock’s story and can be viewed at www.thedailyworld.com.

Schmid was frank about the scope of the costs.

“So the bottom line is everybody is going to wind up paying more for fire service,” she said. “We always said we were going to be paying more, never said it was going to be less. We know this doesn’t look pretty, we’re realistic. This is a drastic increase to anyone’s budget.”

We would encourage voters and our readers to examine the plan whenever it is made available to the public, and let us know your thoughts via emails and letters to the editor. The plan is expected to be made available to the public after both city councils approve the document — at least that’s what we’ve been told.

We are uncertain as to when the respective councils will meet to address the plan, but it must be soon because the deadline to submit the plan to the Grays Harbor County Auditor’s Office for inclusion on the November ballot is Aug. 3.