City leaders face tough decisions on Regional Fire Authority

For the second time in as many elections, registered voters failed to support the proposed merger of the Aberdeen and Hoquiam fire departments into a singular agency.

The defeat was more emphatic the second time around as neither municipality could hit the 60 percent threshold needed to create the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority in the 2022 Special Election on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

The 60 percent mark was required to be met in both cities because of the complicated financial structure necessary to pay for and maintain the would-be agency.

And therein lies the rub. Had this been like most propositions that come before voters, then 50 percent, plus 1 would have been enough to get the job done.

Voters in both cities showed enough support, more than 53 percent in Aberdeen and Hoquiam, for the proposal that was labeled Proposition 1. But enough voters, more than 46 percent in both cities, voiced enough disdain for the proposal to keep it from becoming a reality. Those figures are based on a Special Election 2022 update issued Thursday, Feb. 10, by the Grays Harbor County Assessor’s Office Elections Division.

By comparison, more than 60 percent of the voters in Aberdeen and nearly 58 percent of the voters in Hoquiam supported the merger in the November 2021 General Election. That election outcome was so close — the merger failed by 14 votes — that it reminded us all how every vote matters.

So, now what? That’s a tough question because the reality is the current operational structure is not sustainable, at least that is what local officials have stated.

Residents of both cities wouldn’t necessarily know that based on the level of service they’ve received through the years because it’s been top notch. But that doesn’t answer the question.

One answer could be to try and include Cosmopolis on the plan. We know that adding another city — albeit one in extremely close proximity to Aberdeen — and another block of voters could further complicate things. But they’ve got a volunteer fire department with no volunteers because of a dust-up that does not seem close to being settled.

How Cosmopolis would fit into the whole financial packaging structure, we are not sure. But it does seem logical to include the city in the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority even though to some it might not make as much sense financially as it would regionally.

Another idea would be to try and simplify the mechanics of the proposed merger between Aberdeen and Hoquiam in order for the proposal to move forward as a straight-up ballot proposition — 50 percent, plus 1 to be approved. That would likely get the job done based on recent election results.

We know there must be other ideas floating around that may or may not work. Unfortunately, we don’t have a department at the newspaper dedicated to the ins and outs of municipal finance, so this is about the best we can do.

That means leaders from both cities are going to have to do better if they wish for the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority to secure footing. That’s their reality.