Fire district and town slow down on merger

By Pat Jenkins The Dispatch The process of possibly putting Eatonville’s fire and emergency medical services under full control of South Pierce Fire and Rescue will slow down while the fire district’s new chief gets more acquainted with the proposal and his new duties. Town officials are ready to ask voters to approve an annexation of the town by South Pierce Fire. The Town Council, convinced that Eatonville would be better off as part of the fire district, formally requested it by passing a pro-annexation resolution in October. The South Pierce commissioners were scheduled to act on the proposal at their Nov. 21 meeting, which would have required them to express their support for folding Eatonville’s fire protection and emergency medical services (EMS) into the district’s system. With the commissioners’ approval, an annexation election can be scheduled for early next year. But Lloyd Galey, who became the district’s chief Oct. 1, has asked for a cooling-off period for the annexation process while he settles into his new job. A possible annexation “is on hold” at least for an election in April, Mayor Mike Schaub said. He said Galey “wanted some time to get a better view of the fire department before heading into the annexation process.” “The timeline was tight to have everything ready for an April vote, so holding off for some time for him makes sense,” Schaub said. “We look forward to working with Lloyd through this process.” Galey couldn’t be reached for comment. If the fire district eventually authorizes an election and voters give their blessing, annexation would be the final step in a gradual takeover of Eatonville’s fire department by the district. The town has struggled in recent years to afford its own fire department. To save money, Schaub reduced administrative costs by laying off Eatonville's fire chief in 2014 and giving those duties to South Pierce’s administration on a contract basis. Then, in 2015, the Town Council approved a five-year contract for the district to manage the fire department. Now Schaub and council members agree that the town would be in a better position financially if its fire department is annexed by the fire district. In the district, taxpayers foot the bill for fire and EMS. According to officials, a similar funding system would apply to Eatonville residents if an annexation goes through. In order to equal the $1.50 per $1,000 that South Pierce taxpayers pay the district, the town would give up its EMS levy revenue (50 cents per $1,000 of property tax), its excess property tax levy of $1.02 per $1,000 that voters approved in 2007-08, and 48 cents per $1,000 of its remaining property tax collections. That arrangement would be equal to the contracted fees the town has been paying for management of its fire department, Schaub noted. Details of an annexation haven’t been finalized, but town officials have said they want the town’s fire station to remain open as a base of service for Eatonville’s commercial buildings, schools and approximately 2,800 residents. The station has a fire truck and an aid vehicle and is manned by four firefighters. South Pierce Fire currently serves a combined population of more than 22,000 people in an area that spans 138 square miles and includes Clear Lake, Ohop Lake, Lacamas, Roy, McKenna, La Grande and Harts Lake. The district has seven fire stations, 27 full-time firefighters and 28 volunteers.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment