District pulls from NWFRS agreement
By Meg Olson
The little brother in the North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) family of fire districts wants out.
Citing unease over the precarious financial situation of the agency and a desire to run their own affairs, the two commissioners on the Point Roberts fire district 5 board of directors asked to be released from the three-year NWFRS interlocal agreement.
�We�d like to separate in a nice way, no hard feelings,� district 5 commissioner Bill Meursing said at the December 15 meeting of the NWFRS board in Point Roberts.
While their fellow NWFRS commissioners didn�t think much of the move, they didn�t stand in their way.
�I don�t think you�ve done your homework here,� fire district 13 commissioner Butch Hinchey told Meursing and fellow district 5 commissioner David Gellatly. �I think you�re making more of an emotional stand than a logical one.�
Meursing was the only commissioner left on the district 5 board after the other two commissioners resigned following the crushing defeat at the polls November 4 of a proposal to double the fire district�s tax levy rate. The levy lift, which Meursing had opposed as extravagant, had been intended to raise the tax rate for fire and emergency medical services in Point Roberts to the same level as the other districts in NWFRS, paving the way to a merger. County council appointed Gellatly, Point Roberts former volunteer chief, to fill one of the commissioner vacancies on December 9. The pair moved swiftly to get out of NWFRS.
NWFRS administrator David Crossen said the separation would be harder on district 5 than on the remaining partners district 3 (Lynden) and 13 (Blaine-Birch Bay). �There are some immediate effects and some big ones,� he said. �One of which is the finances of the Wellness Clinic.�
The Wellness Clinic is a medical facility located in Point Roberts and is the only one of its kind in the state. Sponsored by district 5 and funded through a federal grant, NWFRS runs the books under stringent federal requirements that district 5 is not set up to meet, Crossen explained.
Gellatly asked if they could contract with NWFRS to continue to provide that and perhaps some other administrative services. �We do wish to withdraw but we want to make sure this essential service is maintained in Point Roberts,� he said.
Commissioners from the other districts did not appear enthusiastic about the proposal. �You can�t have it both ways,� said district 13 commissioner Bill Salter. �On the one hand you want to get rid of us and on the other you want us to help you.�
NWFRS board president Rich Bosman asked why district 5 would not consider staying in NWFRS until the end of 2004, when the interlocal agreement�s trial period expires, to insure a less abrupt and more orderly transition. �Once you start talking about divorce it�s best to just go,� Meursing said.
The board members voted unanimously to take an amendment to the interlocal agreement terminating district 5 membership back to their respective boards. The agreement may get district 5 out the door but not off the hook. As written it contains a clause specifically holding district 5 to pay any shared costs of operating NWFRS for the past two years, which the state auditor has asked the agency to review.