By Laurelle Walsh
Fireworks, fire protection and police coverage were among the topics discussed at the July 1 meeting of the Winthrop Town Council.
During public comments, Winthrop Marketing Director Kristen Smith strongly encouraged the council to consider a fireworks ban in town.
Smith admitted to posting an item on the town’s Facebook page about a week prior that incorrectly proclaimed Winthrop a “fireworks free zone.” Although untrue — Winthrop follows the state fire marshal’s guidelines, which can be found at www.wsp.wa.gov/fire/docs/fwlicensing/00-014.pdf — Smith noted that the comments to her Facebook post were overwhelmingly in favor of a fireworks ban.
“We’ve become a community where people come because we don’t have fireworks,” Smith said. “I suggest you find out what the businesses and residents of Winthrop think about it.”
Council member Vern Herrst said he was opposed to a fireworks ban and government interference in people’s lives. “There are lots of places in town where you could safely light fireworks. We gotta get out of this nanny state,” Herrst said.
Okanogan County Fire District 6 Commissioner Darold Brandenburg said the town would need to attach a penalty to any fireworks ordinance, “otherwise there’s no disincentive.” Town Clerk Michelle Gaines noted that any ordinance would have to be adopted 60 days before it could be enforced.
Fire protection services
Brandenburg and District 6 Chief Don Waller came to the council meeting with two options for Winthrop’s future fire protection: continue contracting with the district for fire protection services, or begin annexation procedures to join Okanogan County Fire District 6.
Winthrop currently contracts with the district at a rate of $44,000 per year. According to the district’s proposed payment plan, payments for a continued five-year contract would be $47,080 in 2016; $50,375 in 2017; $53,901 in 2018; $57,675 in 2019; and $61,712 in 2020.
If the town were to join the fire district, Winthrop would pay the district’s levy tax rate of 0.638025. At today’s total assessed property valuation of $99,264,682, Winthrop’s annual payment to the fire district would be $63,333 — an increase of $19,333 over the 2015 contract rate.
The fire district is allowed, by state law, to increase its budget (and levy taxes accordingly) by 1 percent per year.
To begin annexation procedures, the district representatives recommended the town draft a pre-annexation agreement. Winthrop would then petition to join the district, and the fire district would accept or reject the petition. The proposal would then go on the ballot as a public referendum. All residents of the fire district would vote on whether to allow Winthrop in.
“As soon as the elections board certifies the election, if there’s a yes vote, the town becomes part of the district,” Waller said.
The last time Winthrop discussed annexation was when it disbanded its fire department in 2006, and opted at that time to contract with Fire District 6. At that time council members “got as far as a draft pre-annexation agreement,” said Gaines. “A lot of details still need to be worked out,” she added. She offered to share that draft with council members “so you can see how far they got.”
Gaines recommended forming a committee to draw up a new draft pre-annexation agreement before sending it to the town’s attorney for review. Council members Rick Northcott and Jessica Sheehan, and Mayor Sue Langdalen offered to sit on the committee.
During council comments, council member Mike Strulic said he would like Winthrop Marshal Rikki Schwab to come in and explain to the council just how police jurisdiction and mutual aid works.
At issue was two instances in which Winthrop officers were observed working far from town — in one instance providing backup at Black Pine Lake, and another time directing traffic on Loup Loup Pass.
“Our officers’ No. 1 priority is to protect the people in our town. It leaves us unprotected” when they respond to calls outside their jurisdiction, Strulic said.
Herrst agreed, adding, by way of example, “It’s the state and county’s responsibility to respond to calls up on Washington Pass, not Winthrop.”
Sheehan noted that Winthrop’s officers respond to calls outside the town’s jurisdiction as part of the mutual aid agreement with neighboring agencies. The Town of Twisp and Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department “back up our officers when we’re not covered. This is why our officers can have days off and go home at night,” Sheehan added.
Northcott suggested asking Sheriff Frank Rogers to come to a council meeting to answer questions about the matter.
Strulic acquiesced, concluding, “Not that I’m against them [Winthrop’s police department] in any way. I’m just asking questions.”
In other business, the council adopted a project management agreement with the Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink (WISR) for Phase 2 construction of the rink, which is owned by the town. The agreement states that Winthrop will pay up to $30,000 to WISR for project management and coordination services between July 15 and Dec. 15, 2015.