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San Juan County fire districts agree on shared fire marshal contract

By MEREDITH M. GRIFFITH
The Islands' Sounder

Orcas Island Fire District commissioners say fire officials from Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw islands are in agreement regarding the proposed interlocal agreement for the county fire marshal position.

The parties met at a June 17 inter-district fire commissioners meeting to discuss the current situation.

“We are getting to a truly functional system,” Commissioner Jim Coffin said.

Orcas Island Fire Chief Mike Harris said it appears the district's fire marshal budget will be in the black by the end of the year, just 10 months since Deputy Fire Marshal Paul Turner took over the work of previous fire marshal Bob Low. With Low's $85,000 annual salary, the county fire marshal position ran over budget by roughly $30,000 each year since Low was appointed in 2005.

Turner, as a deputy fire marshal, receives an annual salary closer to $32,000.

Harris said the county is currently not promising any support for the fire marshal position because of budget shortfalls.

Turner has been conducting building inspections on Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw islands. The three district fire chiefs — Jim Ghiglione of Lopez, Steve Marler of San Juan, and Harris — have been responsible for fire cause determinations, which are outside Turner's expertise. The districts gave tentative approval to proceed under the new arrangement in February, and over the past few months have been assessing its functionality and financial impact.

Orcas Island Fire District commissioners expect to present a draft copy of the new interlocal agreement at the next regular meeting on Aug. 10.

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