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Enumclaw, Fire District 28 annexation details offered

Citizens throughout Enumclaw and Fire District 28 will have two opportunities this week to learn about the annexation proposal that will appear on November’s general election ballot.

A public meeting is planned for 6 tonight, Wednesday, at the Enumclaw fire station on Wells Street. Information regarding the annexation proposal also will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the fire station during an open house that will conclude Fire Prevention Week.

An information meeting also is planned for 6 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Cumberland fire station.

Primary election ballots, which include the annexation proposal, are scheduled to be sent to registered voters Oct. 15.

The ballot issue would, if passed, merge Enumclaw into Fire District 28. For passage, the measure will need the support of voters both in the city and District 28.

For decades, the city and District 28 have jointly contributed to a single department that handles fire and emergency medical services. The city has maintained control of departmental operations with input from the district’s three-member board of directors.

Talk of annexing Enumclaw into the district heated up about a year ago as part of the city’s budget process. Full-time firefighters were added to the departmental roster but the city had not identified a permanent funding source to pay for the additional salaries. The city has paid the salaries by dipping into a fund created by the sale and rental of city property.

Members of the Enumclaw City Council voted 6-1 to put the ballot measure before voters.

The lone dissenting vote was registered by Councilman Mike Ennis, who argues that the city will be giving up power and putting itself at risk of seeing decreased service levels in the future. Additionally, Ennis points to an annexation study that found the city would need to plug a financial hole of more than $300,000 should annexation occur.

The study showed the city’s general fund expenditures would not shrink equally with general fund revenues, leaving a funding gap that would have to be made up somewhere.

Ennis fears the city will keep its property tax collections the same, even after the costs of operating a fire department are entirely taken on by District 28. If annexation occurs, city residents will begin paying taxes to the district in addition to the property taxes levied by the city.

“There is a risk and it scares me,” Ennis said.

Taking an opposing view is Councilman Richard Elfers.

He believes transferring all management of the fire operation to the district will save the city money in the long run, as costs will continue to escalate. The city already is pulling money from its real estate asset fund, he said, and would likely have to create a new revenue stream to pay for future costs of fire protection and EMS.

Elfers and others also maintain there’s a benefit to transferring operations to an entity that deals with only one task. The city has a host of departments to keep tabs on, but District 28 commissioners can focus solely on fire and EMS issues.

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