Lakewood residents were voting overwhelmingly to dissolve their 70-year-old fire district and merge operations with the University Place Fire Department, according to preliminary returns tonight.
If approved, West Pierce Fire & Rescue would become operational March 1.
Lakewood Fire Chief Ken Sharp would become chief of the new agency. University Place Fire Chief Mitch Sagers would become the deputy chief.
The proposed merger is driven by efficiency. Fire districts rely heavily on property taxes, and these two faced a collective $1.5 million shortfall this year due to the drop in assessed values.
The merger would erase that deficit by eliminating vacant administrative positions, postponing wage increases negotiated by the districts’ five labor unions and saving on supplies.
There would be no reduction in service, officials said.
Taxpayers wouldn’t immediately see a difference in the amount they pay for fire protection and emergency medical response. Property owners in both districts pay the same regular-levy rate.
Lakewood is the larger department with 95 firefighters; University Place has 54.
The two districts have a long history of collaboration. As well as sharing a common border, Lakewood and University Place share recruitment and testing. UP also joins other fire agencies in sending their firefighters to Lakewood’s regional training center.
Under state law, only voters in the district that initiated the merger – in this case Lakewood – decide the issue. The merger requires a simple majority “yes” vote for approval.