Effective Dec. 1, the West Thurston Regional Fire Authority will close three of its five stations due to the failure of its maintenance and operations levy on the November ballot.
It was the second time the levy failed to gain the approval of voters.
“Unfortunately, moving forward into 2023, there will be a major funding shortfall, not only affecting each station and staff, but our community members individually,” wrote West Thurston Fire in a notice to residents dated Nov. 23.
As of Dec. 1, two West Thurston Fire stations will remain open “as staffing permits,” according to the fire authority. Those include Sargent Road Station 1-1, located at 18720 Sargent Road SW in Rochester, and Littlerock Road Station 1-2, located at 10828 Littlerock Road SW in Olympia.
Three stations will close Dec. 1, including the Albany Street Station 1-3, located at 18345 Albany St. SW in Rochester; the Maytown Station 1-6, located at 3131 Maytown Road SW in Olympia; and the Scott Lake Station 1-4, located at 2640 Trevue Ave. SW in Olympia.
Most apparatus and equipment will be removed from the closed stations to protect them from theft, according to the district.
“With the closing of all but two stations, response times will be longer, firefighter/EMTs will be laid off, low-priority calls will no longer be responded to, and regrettably your fire insurance premiums are subject to increase towards the end of 2023,” wrote West Thurston Fire in the notice to residents. “We are reviewing all aspects of our service model to provide the best service we can to our community that is within the financial limits we have been provided.”
West Thurston Fire had asked residents to replace the levy at a higher rate than the 83 cent rate expiring at the end of the year: approximately $1.71 for 2023, $1.63 for 2024, $1.55 for 2025 and $1.48 for 2026.
West Thurston Fire’s board of commissioners calculated the ballot request based on the fire authority’s current needs and projected increased call volumes over the next few years.
The two ballot items, one for each district encompassed by West Thurston Fire, both garnered over 50% approval in the Nov. 8 general election, which would be enough to pass if the proposal required a simple majority.
But because West Thurston Fire’s maintenance and operations levy is considered an excess levy, defined as a levy imposed on top of regular property taxes, it requires a supermajority approval of 60% or more under Washington state law.
The levy failed the same way on the August primary ballot, with more than 50% but less than 60% of voters in favor of the levy.
The Nov. 8 general election was the last chance West Thurston Fire had to try and pass the proposal before the current levy expires at the end of 2022. If West Thurston Fire tries for it again in 2023 and passes it then, the fire authority won’t be able to collect the levy until the following year.
The fire authority is evaluating future funding alternatives, according to a news release. Updates will be posted to its website, www.westthurstonfire.org.