Voters say no to regional fire authority

But it’s not over: Cities will deal with complaints to the Public Disclosure Commission over their joint mailer


Olympia and Tumwater voters overwhelmingly rejected their cities’ proposition to divest their fire departments and merge them into a regional fire authority (RFA), as more than 63 percent of voters said no in yesterday’s special election.

As of 3 p.m. today, the unofficial vote count was 6,500 Yes (36.32 percent) and 11,396 No (63.68 percent). Nearly exactly one-third of voters returned their ballots, 17,904, including eight ballots that were returned blank.

The vote was an unambiguous rejection of a process started in 2019 when Tumwater contracted with consultant Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) for a “Regional Fire & Emergency Services Study,” (see attachment) that would create a strategic plan for its fire department, potentially to create a merger with nearby departments. The ESCI study stated that it sought to find “economies of scale, leverage[e] strengths, shor[e] up weaknesses, and generally identify strong partnership opportunities.”

The cities formed a Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee in late 2021 that met throughout 2022. It included, from each city, three city council members, the fire chief and representatives of both firefighters’ unions, and was led by a team of outside consultants who constructed the formula for the “fire benefit charge” that could have provided up to 60 percent of the funding. The committee presented a plan to both city councils, which then approved moving the decision to voters as Proposition 1.

The cities teamed up to send a direct-mail piece, which it said was “for information purposes only,” to every voter that was delivered to during the week that ended March 31. Several residents objected to the mailer, claiming that it was both biased in favor of Proposition 1 and a violation of state law. At least three residents have filed formal complaints about the mailer with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, according to sources known to The JOLT. Citizens filed a similar complaint against Olympia officials in 2016 and received fines, according to reporting in 2020 by The Olympian.


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  • AugieH


    Take a victory lap!

    Wednesday, April 26, 2023 Report this

  • HappyOlympian

    Hooray! The superb thoughts, insights and discussions concerning this critical vote found on JOLT were very much appreciated. As a life-long bureaucrat, I know that reading the fine-print of anything we propose that includes taxes or fees supremely important. Great to see my fellow voters make a wise choice.

    Thursday, April 27, 2023 Report this

  • jimlazar

    This excellent result is partly due to the excellent coverage of this issue by the JOLT News.

    Appreciation is also due to the League of Women Voters, Olympia Indivisible, Thurston County Democrats, Thurston County Republicans, and numerous civic and service clubs that invited both proponents and opponents to discuss their positions in more than a dozen major forums.

    An educated public can make reasoned decisions. Voters in Olympia and Tumwater saw through the baseless rhetoric of the proponents. People were able to find the real facts by visiting the website created by local citizen Larry Dzieza, who put hundreds of hours into educating the public on the flaws of this proposal.

    The Cities proceeded with this measure despite plenty of advance warning that it was flawed. They were told in no uncertain terms, before they voted to put it on the ballot, that if they did not remove the flawed "square root of the square feet" formula, and instead based the charges on the value of each property, that they would face stiff opposition. They proceeded in a bullheaded manner with a flawed proposal, and the voters gave it serious consideration.

    This vote shows a very low level of citizen confidence in government. Both Cities need to do a better job involving their citizens BEFORE they take major actions, to prevent another complete blowout like this.

    This "NO" vote does not solve the problems that brought this idea forward. It prevents them from getting worse by avoiding the big new fees for no new service. .

    We still need to find a way to provide quality fire and emergency medical service at reasonable cost, we still need to address the fact that we are a growing and aging population with increasing medical response needs, and we still need to deal with the increasing number of people with serious drug dependence and mental health issues living on the street, in their cars, and in the woods.

    Proposition 1 would not have solved any of these problems, but they are indeed problems, and we need to work together to identify solutions and find the means to implement those solutions.

    I, for one, and ready to serve on a multidisciplinary committee to find solutions. I sure that others who worked on both campaigns feel the same way.

    Let's move forward.

    Thursday, April 27, 2023 Report this

  • Citizen

    The Jolt did an excellent job of presenting thoughtful articles on both sides of the RFA proposal. Additionally, Jolt provides an option for comments. Unfortunately, the Olympian did not provide the same coverage on an important community issue.

    Thank you Jolt.

    Thursday, April 27, 2023 Report this

  • JW

    Now we'll never know which side was right. Clearly the voters did not want it, so let's hope the No campaign is true to their word about seeking a cooperative solution.

    Thursday, April 27, 2023 Report this

  • PCBigLife

    JW, I see that once again we disagree. I think at this point, it’s pretty clear which side was “right”. It’s a victory for everyone because now we all will have a chance to participate, and that is what the Councils need more than anything else; to engage the public. There was a glaring lack of it on the pro side of the campaign, and one of the fundamental reasons why it was such a poor proposal..

    Thursday, April 27, 2023 Report this

  • JW

    By "right", I mean whether it would be disaster for the fire departments as purported by the No campaign or a building block to the future as proclaimed by the Yes campaign.

    Thursday, April 27, 2023 Report this

  • Cobbnaustic

    Thank you Jolt for the articles you posted on this subject. Pretty sure you helped kill this horrible proposition.

    Wednesday, May 3, 2023 Report this