Some things get talked about for years, without resolution. Ideas languish and then are revived, only to fade from public discussion again. Political or policy decisions often get handled at the elected representative level, rather than at the polls.
So it’s more than merely interesting that the voters of the Town of Winthrop, and their counterparts in the rural portions of Okanogan County Fire District 6, agreed overwhelmingly in last week’s special election that the town should be annexed to the district.
And just like that, it’s settled (unless someday it gets unsettled, I suppose). After years of toying with the idea, the town and district found common ground for a proposal that makes sense in a number of ways for both entities.
The town and district are making similar assumptions about the good faith and accountability of each other’s actions. And now, Winthrop residents will have something to say about that. Starting in 2018, they’ll be able to take part in the district’s elections and run for positions on the board of commissioners. In exchange for long-term assurance of a tax-based revenue stream from the town, the district will have a new set of constituents to answer to in the political arena.
There may have been a time when that kind of citizen access wasn’t as noteworthy, but these days people are paying stricter attention to the district’s plans and activities. How Winthrop’s residents/voters feel about something might make a difference down the road.
Annexation eliminates the periodic do-si-do the town and district participated in whenever it came time to negotiate a new service contract under which the district would protect the town for a certain amount of money. There was sometimes a lot of uncertainty about how that amount would be agreed upon.
Now, Winthrop residents will share the same relative responsibility for fire protection that their rural neighbors do. The net tax burden on town residents will bump up by 64 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2018 (the same rate that the district currently taxes its residents), then fall to 12 cents per $1,000 in 2019 when a town levy to pay for a fire truck expires. It will be felt, but not onerously.
The annexation decision leaves only Twisp as an island within the rest of the surrounding fire district. Like Winthrop, Twisp has negotiated contracts for fire service since giving up its own fire department. As in Winthrop, agreement on a contract amount hasn’t always been easy to reach. Winthrop’s example may get Twisp residents thinking.
Or not. Other similar issues that require like-minded cooperation — such as whether the towns should merge their police departments, or whether there should be a valley-wide recreation district — remain topics of discussion only. Many valley residents still remember the community trauma of merging Twisp’s and Winthrop’s high schools into one. Sometimes these things just take a while to sort themselves out.
More growl, less bite
If there’s anything more treacherous than actually approaching a grizzly bear, it may be stepping into the discussion about whether grizzlies should be reintroduced — slowly, carefully, to be sure — into the North Cascades.
There are certainly strong opinions outlying the middle ground of possibility. Philosophically and as a natural element of our greater Northwest neighborhood, it’s gratifying to think about the big bears roaming where they once did. On the other hand, there are a lot of other two-legged and four-legged creatures (hikers and horses) recreating in that wilderness now. The fear of inevitable clashes — and grizzlies’ other possible predations — can’t be dismissed out of hand as anti-nature.
For now, in the beginning stages of commenting in what will be a long, deliberate process, it will be more productive if everyone draws in their claws and concentrates on learning what’s in the proposals, so they can make useful observations. We are not going to need bells and bear spray anytime soon.
— Don Nelson