Slow the merger rush | Guest column

Submitted by Mark Madsen

I am writing to urge the commissioners for Public Hospital District No. 1 (serving San Juan and several outer islands) to slow their headlong rush towards merging SJI EMS with Fire District No. 3. From what I can tell, three commissioners who are leaving the board in a month are determined to sign an inter-local agreement – a binding contract – which will leave many questions unanswered.

Worse, rushing into this inter-local agreement will force the merger before there is a funding mechanism in place before the Town can vote on annexing themselves into Fire District No. 3, and before the differences in service territories between EMS and FD No. 3 can be rectified with respect to our neighbors on the outer islands.

And even worse than that: the agreement that a majority of commissioners are pushing to sign before leaving the board removes the ability of the board members that succeed them to alter the agreement or get out of it should annexation or levy lid lift votes fail. This is unconscionable and runs counter to the idea that our elected representatives should be able to set policy and address problems.

The Citizen’s Advisory Committee, which thoroughly debated and investigated the issues involved and the detailed changes that need to be made, produced a comprehensive report on what needs to be done to merge EMS with the Fire District. Their plan, available at the district’s website, underscores the benefits that we can achieve by a smooth merger of EMS and the Fire District.

I agree with the CAG and others that a merger is sensible and will yield both service and economic benefits. I support the merger – done properly.

But I believe it is unwise to rush into a binding agreement just because three people are cycling off the board. The CAG report outlines what needs to be done, and as a community, we should do what they outline, including a vote within the Town to annex into Fire District No. 3, a levy lid lift to ensure proper funding and a plan to address the outer islands. Only then should we sign a binding inter-local agreement and merge EMS into Fire District No. 3.

If the commissioners pushing for a fast merger cannot agree to slow down, then I would ask that at least the provisions preventing revision or exit be struck from the agreement so that this community has opinions, should annexation or levy votes fail, or unforeseen issues arise during such a complex process.