The arrangement for fire and emergency services between Woodland and Clark County Fire & Rescue could become permanent next month.
Woodland and fire district voters will decide in the Aug. 4 election whether the district will annex the city into its coverage area. Voters in both the city and the fire district would need to pass resolutions by a simple majority to approve the annexation.
Woodland has contracted with the fire district since 2013. The city signed a new contract in 2017, but with the intention of being annexed at some point, Clark County Fire & Rescue Chief John Nohr said.
The district covers over 125 square miles in the northwest corner of the county with about 40,000 residents — including La Center, Ridgefield and unincorporated areas.
Under a memorandum of understanding with the district, Woodland property owners currently pay the same rate as permanent district residents — $1.48 per $1,000 this year.
The city currently collects the money as part of property taxes, but if annexation is approved, residents would pay the rate directly to the fire district. While unanimously approving a ballot resolution in March, the Woodland City Council also vowed to cut property taxes to reflect the change.
The decision is meant to prevent a tax increase.
“It’s really an administrative change,” Nohr said.
The fire district operates out of five stations, including Station 29 in Woodland.
Two to three district personnel, including a paramedic, work at the station at any given time. But district personnel from other stations, along with other emergency service agencies, are on hand to assist the station on calls.
“The level of service is definitely good,” Woodland City Administrator Peter Boyce said.
Nohr said that the annexation would allow the district to more clearly make long-term financial plans.
The district currently maintains Station 29 and the fire equipment inside it, but it would have more of an ability to make long-term decisions there if annexation passed. Officials have pointed to a need to replace a fire engine that’s more than 20 years old, for instance.
“It would be beneficial to have the district take that on,” Boyce said.
The fire district’s board of commissioners includes five members elected at large. Woodland residents would be able to run for seats on the commission if the city becomes a permanent part of the district.
Certain remote areas of the fire district, even outside of Woodland, are most easily accessible from Station 29. Continued service out of the station would benefit areas north of Hayes Road and Pine Grove near Bratton Road, Nohr said.
“It’s a mutually beneficial contract in that Woodland gets great service, and it also allows us to respond in those areas that are a little bit more remote for the fire district here and still provide great service for the citizens,” Nohr said.
The fire chief also said that the annexation would improve the city’s insurance rating with the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau, which would lower fire insurance costs.
More than 20 cities across the state have annexed or merged with fire districts in the past three years, Nohr said. “It is a process that we’re seeing happening all across the state, and in fact really it’s really going on across the country.”
In February, voters in Battle Ground and Clark County Fire District 3 approved their own annexation.
“You don’t do it in a vacuum,” Boyce said. “We’re aware of that trend; but really, when it comes down to it, it’s about what’s best for Woodland, and we believe this arrangement would benefit the citizens of Woodland.”
Because Woodland falls in both Clark and Cowlitz counties, the district would be required under state law to change its name to reflect the fact that it would also operate permanently in Cowlitz County.
The fire district’s official name, Clark County Fire Protection District 11, would switch to Clark-Cowlitz Fire Protection District 15. The district’s more common brand name would change to Clark-Cowlitz Fire & Rescue, though the name could be subject to change if the board or residents wish, Nohr said.
Nohr hosted a virtual town hall Tuesday to explain the annexation proposal and field questions.
“It’s been very difficult to get the word out during the time of COVID-19,” Nohr said during the meeting. “I haven’t really been able to get out there and see the citizens and really make contact during this time, and it’s very difficult.”
Nohr will host two more meetings, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and on July 28. The meetings will take place on Zoom, and participants can join by entering the meeting ID 899-3979-4019 and password 26639.