Mason County Fire District 9 Cabal Seeks Merger w/District 16

Mason County’s District 9 volunteer fire department has been around for over 50 years. Currently, those local residents in control of it seek to merge with District 16 headed by Chief Wheelander at an annual salary of $80,000. If the proposal succeeds, it will double the current property tax bite of District 9 property owners going toward their Fire District revenue. The increase is substantial: from ~$0.70 to ~$1.40/$1,000 assessed real property market valuation.  And although Chief Wheelander argued for an economy of scale with a larger fire district, no showing/evidence of such was offered. The only certainty is the fire chief’s remuneration would increase significantly. Too many partisans attending the 7-16-18 Grange meeting preferred leading with their wallets (and yours!) rather than their chin. Indeed, no one present knew what the high powered lawyer hired with Districts 9 tax dollars to write the ballot language for the merger was being paid.   AND then, there’s the not insubstantial matter of the cabal finding a regulatory loophole allowing them to evade the 60% super majority otherwise mandated for such a dramatic tax increase, substituting a simple majority of those who bother to cast a ballot.  i.e. The fix is in. (“I have SEEN the enemy…and it is US!” -Pogo-)

The pretext for this expensive (and self serving move explained later) is a “lack of volunteers”. Never mind that the bar for joining the department has been set dauntingly high (a misdemeanor as petty as an open container in the vehicle by a 15 year old is more than sufficient to bar one for life from becoming a fire fighter, volunteer or otherwise) and little meaningful outreach to those of child bearing age is apparent. The honchos running the department claim it is the health department that is the bottleneck. They claimed it has access even to sealed juvenile records.  Whether this trumps a judicial expungement and full restoration of rights remains to be seen.


The most articulate, persuasive, and civil person present supporting the measure was easily Chief Wheelander from District 16 who commands an annual salary of $80,000 in that capacity!  He argued the doubling of the fire district 9’s tax rate was incidental given the purported inability of District 9 to meet all of its obligations without assistance (at ~$400/call charged to District 9) times ~300 calls/year. Wheelander argued District 9 didn’t have the revenue/tax base to pay that kind of bill. Yet, he presumed District 9 has a tax base sufficient to support a doubling of its fire tax rate.

The Skokomish Grange (run by the original donors, the Hunter family) would likely continue to receive its tax subsidized windfall for allowing Fire District 9 to continue to lease its fire hall located on Grange property. The Skokomish Grange is a legal fraternal order exempt from property taxes but for the fact it was established with a fraction of an acre too big to qualify for a real estate tax exempt status. It covers this expense with annual lease fees approximating what it pays in property taxes to the State given its acreage bloated status. This could be easily remedied by the Grange overseers/officers (The Hunters) simply deeding the excess acreage the District 9 fire hall sits on to the fire district. They are disinclined to do so despite it being tantamount to dipping into the District 9 tax payers pocket to unnecessarily underwrite the Skokomish Valley Grange’s ill managed tax profile. In fact, the poorly managed District 9’s expenses are likewise in disarray, being cut from the same warp and weave…and chieftains.

Chief Wheelander (District 16) predicts a successful merger would result in a total of of 6 fire commissioners (3 from each district) and a future of one from each and another 4 at large from the new entity. The existing fire hall building located on Skokomish Grange land would presumably remain as the Grange’s property with no adjustment reducing  unnecessary overall tax liability. Wheelander’s rhetorical remark about how fire districts are required to pay state sales tax bears no relevance to this point despite being a just recitation of egregious double taxation. What remains a glaring inequity is District 9 tax payers are effectively being forced to support/subsidize the Skokomish Grange in a more or less obscure manner. A merger will not resolve that fact…there being no stomach to offend the Hunters, admittedly pillars of the community.


The Skokomish Valley Grange website links to staff are dysfunctional. It doesn’t reflect well on District 9’s competency.

If the merger proposal passes, it will double District 9’s property taxes from ~$0.70 to ~$1.40/$1,000 assessed market value for real property in the District.

The meeting (7-16-18 eve) at the Skokomish Grange consisted largely of consensus by intimidation and demonizing alternate views of the pending merger’s advisability. It was the worst most undemocratic neighborhood meeting I’ve ever attended and dimmed my opinion of some of my neighbors.

The meeting was exceedingly amateurish, as was the process at this late date (ballot filing deadline), and the failure to know what the high powered attorney drafting the ballot language was charging District 9 taxpayers.

Questions involving the District 9’s relationship with the Skokomish Valley Grange vis-a-vis expenses were shouted down. It may be the Chief Wheelander’s math recommends the passage of the ballot measure properly drafted (by no means a given) but the process certainly does not and constitutes an embarrassing litany of incompetence and petulance. No quorum was present and the meeting was disingenuously characterized as a ‘working’ meeting when this was called out. The tone was distinctly anti-democratic. Most attention was given to how to perfect a fait accompli rather than taking the temperature of the electorate or even fully informing them. Proponents (virtually all) were churlish or histrionic in their demeanor toward a lone doubting Thomas with reservations. The Skokomish Grange continues to unnecessarily siphon $ from District 9’s taxpayers. A cabal appears to be firmly in control of the entire process and a lot of thought has gone into emasculating the 60% majority normally required for such a measure in favor of a 50% simple majority of those District 9 (only) voters submitting a ballot.

Much was said about how large insurance corporations and other non-resident notables felt rather than District 9 taxpayers. It was argued said corporate denizens would raise insurance premiums if the merger proposal failed. The bullying/intimidation appeared to be engaged in a full court press!

No time for pro/con accompanying ballot measure explanations has been planned for.

Perhaps all these shortcomings warrants a more professional implementation of a fire district. But  the lion’s share of District 16’s revenue comes from the Shelton correction center (prison). Chief Wheelander’s jaundiced view of anyone with the slightest flaw in their background check, no matter how ancient or youthful was palatable. It may be that a fire district’s willingness (or lack thereof) to help mitigate youthful indiscretion should contribute to its own success or failure without outside assistance.

What meaningful effort toward a rapprochement with the leaders of the Skokomish tribe has been had? None! The young men and women most able to participate as volunteers have been effectively ignored or worse. District 9 serves their community. They should be welcomed and encouraged to volunteer as full partners rather than left afar from a white bastion in all but name only. A meaningful path should be made for them to journey toward that end. Make no mistake, the proposal at hand constitutes a rejection of the volunteer model of public service and those strengths that regularly accompany it that defy the bean counters. If we want solidarity and a robust community, we must adhere to the spirit of cooperation that has brought us so far. We are better served by fire officials from among our friends and neighbors than a well paid career appointee from the next drainage to the south.


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