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Fire district merger will be on ballot

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By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

A proposal to merge three Plateau fire districts under one organizational umbrella will be on the May 16 ballot.

The three districts are Pierce County Fire District 12 (headquartered on 234th, between Buckley and Bonney Lake), South Prairie Fire District 20 and East Pierce Fire and Rescue or District 22.

Proposition 1 will ask voters to approve a merger of districts 12 and 20 with Bonney Lake-based East Pierce Fire and Rescue.

The three districts have been acting in partnership, under the Tri-District banner, for the past three years.

East Pierce Fire Chief Dan Packer said the “partnership has been very successful with more efficient and quicker responses for many areas. This is the final step in a partnership between the districts.”

Packer presented the merger proposition to the Bonney Lake City Council at the March 21 workshop, assuring council members and Mayor Neil Johnson there would be no change in service to the city.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue was formed by a merger in 2000 between the Bonney Lake Fire Department, Lake Tapps Fire Department and Fire District 22.

“It worked well for us when we did it in 2000,” Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman said. “The cost is the same and we may have more services.”

According to Packer, the new fire district would provide fire and emergency services to Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, South Prairie and Wilkeson, and all areas in between, an area of more than 57,000 residents.

Packer said the Tri-District partnership was formed as a trial run prior to the merger to reduce duplication of services between districts and to pool recourses.

If the proposition is passed the districts would fall under one budget umbrella, rather than being split into three as they are now.

Packer said approving the proposition means better training for firefighters and emergency personnel, 24-hour staffing of district fire stations and, for residents, “no out of pocket cost for medical transportation. The co-pay is waived because if someone lives in the district we think they are already paying taxes (for the service).”

According to the chief, the cost to residents in property taxes should not change in district 20 and 22, but “district 12 may see a slight increase.”

The merger is following a state trend of regional partnerships forming to pool resources. About 10 years ago four fire districts - South Hill, Spanaway, Midland and Parkland - merged to form the Central Pierce Fire District.

Graham and the South Pierce Fire and Rescue also are considering a merger, as are districts in the Tri-Cities region of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

“It just makes sense,” Packer said. “It's more efficient local government and a simpler form of governance.”

Voters in districts 20 and 12 will decide the proposition, because they are merging into District 22.

Wilkeson and South Prairie have a contract with their respective fire districts for service and Packer said there will be no change in service. Voters in those two communities will not be voting on the merger proposal.

“We will accept all agreements in place,” Packer said. “We are already serving these areas.”

If the proposal is approved, the 47-year-old Packer will be the chief of the newly formed district. He has been a fire chief for the past 12 years and worked as a firefighter for the past 25 years.

The merged district would serve most of the Pierce County Plateau region except the city of Buckley, which maintains its own fire department.

According to Buckley Fire Chief Alan Predmore the city declined to join in the Tri-District merger because “ it would be considerably more expensive for the citizens of Buckley. Our evaluation indicates that it would not be an improvement on the service right now.”

Packer said the Tri-District has extended the offer to Buckley.

“We have a good relationship with them,” Packer said. “It will continue to be an opportunity from our perspective.”

Dennis box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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