Voters in both the Town of Winthrop and Okanogan County Fire District 6 are handily approving a proposed annexation of the town to the fire district, the first tally of special election votes indicated on Tuesday night (Feb. 14).
According to Okanogan County Auditor’s Office results posted after 8 p.m. Tuesday, Winthrop voters were approving the proposal with 65 “yes” votes (75 percent) and 22 “no” votes. The margin was even larger in the fire district, where voters cast 712 “yes” ballots (87 percent) to 106 “no” ballots.
Voters living in Winthrop and voters who live within the fire district boundary each must, as separate entities, approve the annexation proposal by a simple majority for it to take effect. If either of the jurisdictions rejects the proposal, the annexation will not take place.
The auditor’s office another batch of vote tallies will be released on Friday (Feb. 17). Nearly 600 ballots remain to be counted, the auditor’s office said.
Under annexation, the level of fire protection services for Winthrop residents would remain the same as they are now under an existing contract between the town and the fire district that continues through the end of this year.
In 2018, when the proposed annexation would go into effect, town residents would see their property tax bills increase by 64 cents per $1,000 of assessed evaluation, the same rate that District 6 now assesses its rural residents and would continue to assess if annexation proceeds, according to information provided by the Town of Winthrop.
But the town’s assessment would then drop by 52 cents per $1,000 in 2019, when an earlier bond issue to pay for a fire truck is retired. So the net increase would be 12 cents per $1,000 after the town’s first year as part of the district, according to the town.
Failure of the annexation proposal would mean the town would have to negotiate a new contract with the district for continued fire protection.
Residents of Twisp, which also contracts with Fire District 6 for fire services and is not part of the district, didn’t vote in the special election.
If Winthrop annexes to the district, town residents will be eligible to vote in elections affecting Fire District 6 operations, and will be eligible to run for positions on the district’s board of commissioners.
Both Winthrop and Twisp had their own municipal fire departments in the past, before eliminating them and contracting with Fire District 6 for fire protection services.
Discussion of a possible annexation has been an on-again, off-again topic in recent years for both towns, as they have periodically renegotiated fire service protection contracts with the district
District 6’s firefighting contingent includes four paid staffers and 32 volunteers. The fire district covers an area of about 350 square miles and provides fire, rescue and emergency response services from Gold Creek to Lost River. There are fire stations in Twisp, Winthrop, Mazama and Carlton.