Council has questions, fire vote off until August

With unanswered questions and unresolved issues, members of the Enumclaw City Council have chosen to delay the vote on a possible annexation of the city into Fire Protection District 28.

According to an ordinance passed in January, citizens in both the city and the rural fire district would have voted on the annexation issue in april. A decision reached during the council’s Feb. 22 meeting pushed the voting date to August.

The local fire department now exists as a joint operation of the city and District 28. Residents of both jurisdictions pay taxes to support the operation, which is headquartered in town and has two outlying stations. The city is in charge of the administrative function and owns the building on Wells Street, but District 28 residents are represented by an elected, three-member board of commissioners.

The relationship between the city and District 28 has been far from perfect through the years and city administration has decided the best solution would be for the district to take over management of the entire operation. That’s the goal of the ballot issue first intended for April, now delayed until August. The transfer of all power to District 28 would require majority support of both city and district voters.

While everything appeared on track for the April election, plans were derailed during a Feb. 18 council workshop, a meeting where questions were raised that could not immediately be answered. Council members expressed concerns about finances, the transfer of assets and more.

When the council convened in regular session Feb. 22, City Administrator Mike Thomas explained there was a timing issue not working in the city’s favor.

“It seems prudent to consider an alternate plan of action,” he said, noting that the King County Council is charged with signing off on ballot measures and was slated to act this week on the city’s request for an April election. Agreeing that too many issues are still unresolved, Enumclaw council members passed an ordinance scrapping the April election in favor of an August vote.

The process did not occur quickly, as Councilman Mike Ennis took the opportunity to again express his displeasure with the entire plan. In a nutshell, Ennis contends city residents have nothing to gain by annexing into the district.

He registered the lone vote against moving the annexation vote from April to August, arguing that the maneuver only delays a bad policy, rather than correcting it.

“There are things in here that just aren’t true,” Ennis said, holding aloft a packet of information regarding the annexation plan. Specifically, he argued that city taxpayers will not benefit financially from the move, that the city itself will not save money and that city residents will not have more input when it comes to making departmental decisions.

All those things have been touted as potential benefits of annexation.

Ennis has repeatedly said the council must focus only on what’s best for the citizens of Enumclaw. Annexing into Fire District 28 would provide benefits for the district, he argued, but none for the city.

“It’s a win, win, win for them (the district), but does nothing for the citizens of Enumclaw,” he said. “There are no benefits, financial or otherwise.”

Councilman Jim Hogan admitted to “a little bit of heartache” over the fact that the city has worked for years with District 28 and was about to delay the annexation vote.

“I know in the past we’ve had a tenuous relationship,” he said. In the end, Hogan voted with the majority, noting, “all we’re doing is allowing citizens a vote on this.”

Councilman Jeff Beckwith agreed the city may not reap immediate benefits if annexation is approved. But, he said, the long-term advantages make the move worthwhile.

In other action during their Feb. 22 meeting, council members:

• Heard an update from Thomas regarding two vacant city positions, the director of the Department of Community Development and an Expo Center marketing and event coordinator.

The first is a department head position with an advertised salary range of $88,400 to $96,500 annually. The director oversees a department charged with planning and economic development efforts; the department also contains the city’s building division.

The Expo Center position reports to the director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. The listed salary range is $3,960 to $5,167 monthly. Job duties include event recruiting and promotion and contract management.

Applications for both were due Friday and plans call for interviews to be conducted March 10 and 11. Thomas said the hope is to have hiring completed by late March or early April.

• Extended a franchise agreement with Comcast for another six months. The current 15-year agreement is about to end and staff requested a short extention to work out a new contract. Franchise agreements are typically shorter in duration than they used to be and the city is looking at a new agreement in the five- to 10-year range, council was told.

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