Community to hear annexation issue
Should the city of Blaine be annexed into Whatcom County fire district 13? That�s the question registered voters within Blaine city limits and district 13 will have to answer next month.
In the meantime, residents can attend a public meeting scheduled for Wednesday, January 14, where Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic and city staff, as well as fire administrator Dave Crossen, district 13 fire chief Jim Rutherford, and others will present information about the issue and take questions from the public.
�The meeting is designed to help clear up potential questions and issues people may have with the city of Blaine annexation into the fire district,� Rutherford said. �We have already encountered a misconception from some in the city about tax dollars. This is the time for them to ask questions and get answers.�
An election date of Monday, February 3 is scheduled and in order for the vote to pass a majority vote is required in both the city of Blaine and district 13. Should it pass, all property within Blaine city limits will enter district 13 boundaries, thereby receiving fire and emergency medical services (EMS) when needed. Currently, the city of Blaine receives services through a five-year interlocal agreement with North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) - an agreement which expires December 31, 2004. NWFRS was formed in 1999 between districts 3 (Lynden), 5 (Point Roberts), and 13, to cut costs and combine services. District 5, however, left NWFRS two weeks ago.
�Five years ago, with the encouragement of the volunteer and paid fire staff then in Blaine, the city council and Whatcom fire district13 agreed to enter into a cooperative agreement whereby the district would provide fire/emergency services services to Blaine,� city manager Gary Tomsic said. �The agreement clearly anticipated that, if the partnership was successful, the next step would be for the city to annex to the fire district.�
Tomsic said the district and the city have better service than what existed prior to the agreement. �The one major improvement was that the city's funding allowed the district to provide 24-hour, seven days a week coverage,� he said. So what happens if the vote does not pass? The city will then need to determine if it wishes to continue the contract with district 13 or establish a fire department for just the city. Prior to the city of Blaine�s agreement with NWFRS, the city had its own fire department.
�Annexation is the next logical step,� Tomsic said, adding it allows the district to plan long range for fire and EMS service within their service area without having to worry about whether Blaine is in or out of the agreement and it increases the district�s capacity to fund its capital improvements program.
�The annexation will allow the citizens of Blaine the opportunity to participate directly in the decisions that are made in the fire/EMS service arena by having a vote for tax increases and for their elected commissioners,� Tomsic said.
The main concerns people have voiced against annexation, officials said, are annexation costs, control of services, and concern district voters will be subsidizing the city of Blaine. Those for the annexation say it will allow the district to implement fire protection and EMS services on a long-term basis and it expands the district�s tax base.
�People tend to get territorial at times like these, and concerned their taxes will go out of their area. In this case, it�s not true,� Rutherford said.
The current residents of the fire district will not have to pay for the new Blaine fire station, and the residents of Blaine will not have to pay for the district�s fire stations or equipment because the district currently has no debt, Tomsic said.
The January 14 meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will be held at the new Blaine fire station at 9408 Odell Road.