The move to annex into Fire District 3 was a surprising success
BATTLE GROUND — The ballot returns from the Feb. 11 special election left city leaders in Battle Ground shocked, but in the best possible way.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the city council, Mayor Adrian Cortes said mayors from cities all over Clark County approached him at a meeting in town after the election, wondering about the “secret sauce” that led to more than 80 percent of people in Battle Ground voting in favor of annexing into Fire District 3, even if it meant spending more in their property tax bill.
“I got a similar sentiment when I attended the Southwest Washington City Manager Association luncheon last Thursday,” said Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman who, along with Fire District 3 Chief Scott Sorenson, led the campaign for the annexation. “They were all pretty impressed and blown out of the water.”
The annexation, which was also approved by 74 percent of people outside of city limits and already within Fire District 3, will take effect in 2021, meaning property owners in the city see a new line item for property taxes to FD3, estimated to be $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value, starting on their Feb. 2021 statement.
The city council will vote later this year to reduce utility tax rates from the current 22 percent to 12 percent, effective January of next year, said Erdman.
In the meantime, the city, along with the fire district, will work with the county to determine the new boundary lines for Fire District 3.
Fire District 3 will continue to lease the city-owned fire station in Battle Ground for $1 per month, and the city will transfer ownership of its two fire engines to the district. Unimproved city-owned property will also be transferred to FD3 to build a future new fire station and possible training center at some point, though no timeline has been set.
While it’s unclear which piece of property the city would set aside, the primary focus has been a vacant plot of land behind the Albertsons store on Main Street, west of 20th Avenue.
Erdman said the city will also spend time this year moving ahead with plans to improve police services, repair and build new roads, as well as implementing parks improvements and new walking trails.
The process leading up to 2021 will also include a lot of communication by the city about what they’re doing to get ready for the changes, so people hopefully aren’t caught off guard next year when their tax bills look different.
Battle Ground previously contracted for fire service through Clark County Fire & Rescue, but switched to Fire District 3 after that contract became too expensive. Councilor Shane Bowman says the whole point was to eventually get out of the fire business as a city altogether, and that Fire District 3 has proven themselves in the time they’ve been working in the city.
“I think what we saw, with the vote, and what we saw in the district even, is that you guys have a great reputation,” said Bowman.
“What’s the secret sauce?” asked Councilor Mike Dalesandro, who was mayor during most of the push for annexation, “it’s being transparent and being honest with people, and talking to them about exactly what’s going on. Hopefully this is an indication that, as a city, we’re building trust in our community.”