Sep. 13—With only a handful of people showing up to two public open houses regarding the Aberdeen/Hoquiam fire services consolidation plan, the cities are taking an additional step to inform the public on the costs and benefits of the plan.
"Because of what's going on with COVID ramping up, next week we are going to tape a Zoom recording," said Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard. "It will be posted on both cities' websites."
At the Wednesday, Sept. 8, Aberdeen City Council meeting, Council President Dee Anne Shaw said Hubbard put on a thorough presentation at the Aberdeen open house Sept. 2, but, "you know, it's the middle of the week, there weren't a lot of people there."
The Hoquiam presentation the night before had just a handful of people attending, likely at least partly because of the in-person nature of it during a fifth wave of the COVID pandemic.
Still, Hubbard and others put on a 90-minute presentation that highlighted the plan at both open houses, what it's designed to do, and its cost.
"We should all be proud of this effort that they're trying to put forward, the extra hours they're all putting in to try and share with our voters the work that has gone into this proposal," said Shaw.
The proposal, simply put, would combine the fire and EMS services of both cities into one agency, the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority. The goal is to streamline operations, improve response times and overall services, and cut down on redundancies between the two cities.
The plan does come with a significant price tag. A new "benefits charge" would be added to property tax bills for most residents with structures on their properties, based on square footage, that would raise annual taxes by hundreds of dollars a year. That would allow the hiring of six new personnel, however.
"Corri Schmid, Hoquiam's finance director, does an amazing job explaining the bottom line," said Shaw.
Shaw said people learning about the plan are often saying, OK, that all sounds good, we know you worked hard, but the bottom line is how much is this going to cost?"
Schmid said while the turnout at the Hoquiam open house was small, the questions posed by those who did attend were pointed and well thought-out.
The plan is based on the current situation in both cities, where the term "anemically staffed" comes up often. There are not enough responders to maintain the current level of response, which proponents of the plan say is excellent, despite the limited assets of the individual departments.
"We all know we've been getting Cadillac service for basic bucks for a lot of years now, and so it is going to cost a little more," said Shaw of the plan.
The 90-minute open house will be condensed into about 45 minutes for the video, said Hubbard. It will contain the information presented at both open houses, including the benefits and cost of the plan. The plan itself will be on the November general election ballot and, because of its funding mechanism, will require a 60% supermajority to pass.
The video will be posted on both cities' websites, aberdeenwa.gov and cityofhoquiam.com. The Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority plan is available in its entirety at cityofhoquiam.com/rfa-plan-released/.