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Citizens Want New Fire District Between Husum, White Salmon

Issue may go to voters

Some residents of Fire District No. 3, south of the Husum area, are launching an effort to form their own fire district.

"The effort occurs at the request of a group who feel their money should go to the White Salmon Fire Department, which arguably protects their homes, and not Husum," explained Bill Mason, a member of the Fire District No. 3 Board of Commissioners.

The area in question is north of White Salmon and within the city's "urban growth boundary." In general, the area is closer to the White Salmon Fire Hall than to the Husum Fire Hall.

Proponents of forming the new fire district paid a deposit of $4,500, which would cover the cost of a special election to decide the issue.

The Klickitat County Auditor's Office confirmed receipt of the required funds in a Dec. 29 letter to Fire District No. 3 in Husum.

"This is to inform you we have received six personal checks in the amount of $4,500 to satisfy the deposit required to proceed with the petitions to withdraw and form a new fire district, which our office certified," read the letter, signed by Myrtle Scheradella, assistant elections administrator for the Auditor's Office in Goldendale.

The group has submitted two petitions -- one to withdraw from Fire District No. 3, and another to create a new fire district. The withdrawal petition reads, in part, as follows: "This withdrawal will benefit both Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 and those residing in the withdrawing territory. Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 will not be required to provide first response fire protection to the withdrawal territory for which it now contracts with the city of White Salmon to provide because it cannot reasonably do so. Homeowners in the withdrawal territory will form their own fire protection district and contract directly with the city of White Salmon for their first response fire protection ... doing so will assure the residents of the withdrawal area a faster first response, a better fire insurance rating, lower homeowner's insurance rates, and lower taxes."

The date for an election has not yet been set. Before a special election on the measure, public hearings must be held, including a hearing before the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners.

"If the Fire Commissioners vote to let the area withdraw, and if the County Commissioners concur, it would just happen with no election," explained Fire District No. 3 Commissioner Jim Hulbert, who lives in the area that could break away. "If either board says no to it, it might end up going to an election."

One of the backers of the effort to withdraw from Fire District No. 3 said there is a basic issue behind the move.

"The area surrounding White Salmon gets its fire protection from White Salmon, yet we pay all our funds to Fire District No. 3," explained Lance Stryker. "And Fire District No. 3 pays a very small portion of that for our fire protection. It seems those funds should go to the entity that actually does protect us. That's essentially always been the issue."

Stryker said response times are the primary issue, as well as the differences in the characteristic of the areas in question.

"We're more urban/suburban, while Fire District No. 3 is more rural. The needs of the two departments are not the same," Stryker said.

Mason said there were many undercurrents playing out as the effort to alter the fire district boundaries begins.

"One, two of the three Fire Commissioners live in the area that would secede," Mason explained. "Two, there has been much discussion of combining the White Salmon, Husum, and Bingen fire departments to form a single district from Bingen to BZ. Great gains have been made in cooperation between the three departments. Unfortunately, formation of a new district might set cooperation back years."

Mason said there could be significant financial impacts as well.

"Fire District No. 3 will have to downsize if they lose the considerable revenue contribution of the contract area," he explained.

Mason added that he supports unifying the fire departments in the immediate area, and as a result does not support the secession proposal.

"The best use of resources -- both personnel and equipment -- will eventually be achieved via a unified district," Mason explained. "I'm concerned that secession will exacerbate antagonisms and delay unification."

Hulbert said he agreed with Mason's analysis.

"What we want is to get everybody working together. That's the best solution," Hulbert said.

However, Hulbert pointed out that he was sympathetic to the issues raised by those wanting to form a new fire district.

"I'm in a delicate position," Hulbert said. "I want to support the fire district, yet the urban growth area is a better fit for the city than for Fire District No. 3. But breaking it loose is going to cause some problems for Fire District No. 3. Yet in reality, the first response comes from White Salmon. Just by location, the first response is going to be much quicker from White Salmon. White Salmon is providing first response, and not getting paid for it."

But Hulbert pointed out that in the long run, more consolidation -- not less -- was the most sensible way to handle this type of issue.

"The best solution for this whole thing is to form one fire district -- including White Salmon and maybe Bingen," Hulbert said. "That would be the most efficient and effective way to utilize the resources we have."

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