Fire commissioners grow from three to five

During the special election held on Feb. 14, voters approved a measure to expand the Orcas Fire and Rescue Board of Fire Commissioners from three members to five.

“I think we’re on a really good track,” said fire commission chairman Wes Heinmiller. “We’re anxious to find two people to fill the positions.”

In November 2016, after repeated requests by the public for the board to increase, existing commissioners Heinmiller, Barbara Bedell and newcomer Amanda Montague voted to add the measure to the February ballot.

The board drew criticism from the public after they were unable to meet over a two-month period in the summer because two of the members were absent. Two commissioners meeting without the third would qualify as a majority, which would be non-compliant with the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

Proponents of the board expansion also stated that the increasing workload on OIFR requires a larger board for oversight. A larger board would also better represent the community at large.

During the February election, 1,470 (70.17 percent) voters approved the board expansion with only 625 (29.83 percent) rejecting it. Orcas is the only island in the San Juans that has five commissioners on its board. San Juan and Lopez both have three.

The next move for the board will be to publish requests for candidate applications. When a board position became vacant last summer, caused by Jim Coffin’s retirement, six people showed interest in the position. The board wants to give more community members the option to submit their candidacy before making a decision.

“We need to open this up to the public,” said Heinmiller. “We’d like to interview the people first, then make a decision at the next meeting.”

According to Heinmiller, the additional two commissioners will add a financial burden to the community. Under Washington state law, commissioners are compensated for their service to the board. According to OIFR’s 2016 budget, commissioners were paid $114 for each meeting day and reimbursed for training. In 2016, OIFR budgeted $8,656 for the commissioners’ stipends. But Heinmiller is still optimistic.

“I think there is good and bad to it; I think the good will outweigh the bad,” he said.

The good, Heinmiller added, is that now commissioners can meet on a one-on-one basis, as two members will no longer count as the majority.

“We’re excited to get the positions filled, and we’ll do it as quickly as possible,” said Heinmiller. “But we’re not going to be rushed into it; we’re going to do our due diligence and put the search out for the correct people.”

Those interested in filling the seats need to contact OIFR no later than by Friday, March 10. More information may be found in RCW Title 52 Chapter 52.14 ( Appointments will be made at the next regular meeting on March 20.