On April 23, voters living in the East Pierce fire district and the city of Milton will be asked to consider officially annexing Milton into the fire district. Mail-in ballots should arrive on April 5.
An annexation is a public vote by the voters of both the fire district and the city asking to formally join the district. It’s similar to a merger, except that all residents living within the fire district are asked to consider whether or not to allow the annexation.
If approved by the voters, the district’s boundaries are adjusted around the city and the district accepts responsibility for fire and emergency medical services (EMS) within Milton. “In this case, the City of Milton Fire Department has already joined with East Pierce by operational agreement. If the annexation is approved, I expect this will be a smooth transition,” says East Pierce Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Jerry E. Thorson.
East Pierce has provided fire and paramedic services to the residents of Milton since the agreement was implemented Jan. 1, 2011.
“Overall, we’re extremely pleased with our response times and level of service we offer the citizens of Milton,” Thorson says. “We provide a depth of resources to support field operations for fire, EMS, prevention, training, quality improvement and public education. In addition, there are all of the efforts that go on behind the scenes, such as logistics, fleet management and the resources to meet complicated and ever-changing fire and EMS regulations and standards.”
Formalizing the relationship through annexation will give Milton residents more of a voice in topics like setting the tax rates and voting for fire commissioners. The only other change Milton residents will notice is that they will pay for fire and EMS directly to the fire district instead of paying the city, which then pays the district.
The annexation will not impact either rates or levels of service for existing East Pierce residents or businesses. Milton residents will continue to pay the same $2.00 per $1,000 in assessed property value as the rest of the residents in the district. Beginning in 2014, Milton residents will also pay the final year of the fire district’s two-year Maintenance and Operations Levy of approximately $0.43 per 1,000, or about $86 annually for a home valued at $200,000. That levy is due to expire at the end of 2014. Any extension of that levy would be voted on by all East Pierce voters, including Milton residents should the annexation pass.
The decision to enter into the operational agreement with East Pierce was made after much consideration by the Milton City Council and the fire district’s board of fire commissioners. According to Milton council members, they believed the agreement was the best way to ensure citizens receive the highest quality emergency services possible in the most cost-effective way over the long term.
“The relationship with East Pierce has allowed the citizens and businesses in Milton to enjoy quick response times with less reliance on surrounding fire departments or private ambulance services,” Thorson says.
Prior to the operational agreement, the Milton station was staffed by two career firefighter during business hours and by volunteers on evenings and weekends. Private ambulances provided paramedic services, when they were available. East Pierce provides 24-hour paramedic response, including transporting patients to local hospitals at no out-of-pocket expense to residents who live in the fire district.
“Over the past year, Milton residents who were transported by East Pierce crews saved approximately $300,000 to $400,000 compared to the cost of a private ambulance,” Thorson says.
Annexation votes require a simple majority to pass. If either the city or the district’s voters turn the measure down, it fails. There are no validation requirements. Additional information about the annexation is available on the East Pierce website at www.eastpiercefire.org.