Editorial: Fire district must be careful

You have to be careful when operating a public enterprise to make sure you don’t lose the public’s trust. That’s why North Whidbey Fire and Rescue commissioners should take a little more time before committing to the purchase of the old Mazda/Volkswagen dealership property along Highway 20 on the north end of town.

The commissioners did vote last week to make an offer on the property, probably in the $2 million range. To their credit, they publicly discussed the possible purchase at consecutive monthly meetings before deciding to move ahead. By law, “property acquisition” can be discussed in private, although any vote has to be taken in public. They could have simply announced the purchase agreement and then voted on it.

The commissioners did the right thing in bringing the issue before the public when they did, but they still have a lot of explaining to do. It was surprising to hear that the fire district has saved up $2.8 million after losing back-to-back levy hike elections a few years ago. There has long been talk of the need for an improved fire district headquarters, either through expansion or new construction, but the Mazda property came out of the blue, at least from the public’s viewpoint.

The commissioners have done a good job rebuilding the public’s trust after the two embarrassing election defeats. Stations have been closed and the acquisition of new fire engines delayed in favor of rebuilding existing equipment. But suddenly spending $2 million for a new “administration building” site on the north end of town could undermine their rebuilding job.

The commissioners have to thoroughly explain the need for a new building site, why this location is preferred and how it fits in with the rest of the district’s assets. The public simply needs some more convincing on this one. Speak to public service clubs and hold a couple of special public meetings in a convenient location. Then, if the public seems supportive, go ahead and buy yourself some property.

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