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Mercer Island Approves New Fire Station, Truck Levy

Prop. 1 is currently passing with 56.48 percent of the vote. Approval of 50 percent is required for passage of the new property tax, estimated at $60.20 annually for the average MI home.

A majority of Mercer Island residents in early vote tallies support Mercer Island Proposition 1 for rebuilding Mercer Island Fire Station 92, on the Island's South-end, and the purchase of a new fire rescue truck.

Results from King County Elections for the Nov. 6 general election shows a 13-percent lead, with 4,849 votes (56.48 percent) counted in favor of the property tax levy and 3,735 (43.51 percent) opposed.

Former Mercer Island Mayor Jim Pearman, who suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 2011 and helped begin the planning process by funding the design of a new fire station, said the city had known for over a decade that Station 92 needed investment.

"This is kind of the last major capital thing that the city needs to do," he said. "It's such a vital thing for the South-end of the Island and important to the integrated fire system. I think people understood that."

The city has long sought the replacement of the station, calling it inadquate for current needs and structurally unsound in the event of a mjor earthquake. Critics point to the fact that the station survived the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, call previous studies calling for the station's replacement too narrowly focused and oppose the financing of a new truck through a new tax levy (go here for an in-depth look at the city's planning for replacing the 50-year-old fire station).

The ballot measure would authorize a levy lid-lift for nine years of up to $0.086 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which would raise approximately $5.22 million for construction of the new fire station and purchase of a fire rescue truck. For an in-depth analysis on the details of Fire Station 92, see this Q&A with City Finance Director Chip Corder.

Construction on the station and the purchase of a new rescue truck would take place in 2013. Based on current tax rates, the cost to a home owner would be approximately $60.20 per year for a home valued at $700,000 home (the city's current median) and $86 per year for a $955,000 home (the city's current average) through 2021.

For more on federal and statewide races in the Nov. 6 general election, click here. For more on King County and local races, click here. Patch will update results in the coming days.

Proposition No. 1, City Fire Station, Truck Levy Lid-Lift

Ballots Cast/Registered Voters

17,607/ 8,584 CandidateVoteVote % Approve
4,849 56.48% Reject
3,735 43.51%
Ira B. Appelman November 07, 2012 at 04:47 PM
I'm satisfied with the vote, even though an Island majority didn't agree with me. In the City's latest 2012 telephone survey, the fire dept has the highest approval at 94% favorable, 85% of the City Council (6 of 7) voted for the levy, yet only 56% of Islanders, at this writing, approved the levy. The City Council chose a levy because they couldn't get the 60% needed for the usual construction bonds. The Council also deleted an additional two fire trucks from the proposed levy fearing it wouldn't pass. More than any other Islander, I have for years advocated votes for controversial ISSUES beyond the votes required under state law for levies and bonds. Those controversial issues have included the tree ordinance, the giveaway of our single occupant vehicle rights to the I-90 center lanes, and the Island Crest Way road diet. The City Council has STRONGLY opposed those votes because they feared they would lose. Historically, for the only two issue votes put to Islanders, the council majority lost (the development of Pioneer Park in 1969 and building City Hall in Mercerdale Park around 1986). My point in advocating more issue votes is that the City Council isn't truly representative of Islanders. Time and again a unanimous or near unanimous council has voted for something that Islanders have rejected or have been evenly split, at best. In the case of the fire station demolition/rebuild, an Island majority vote was needed, and that's the way it should be.
Lisa Thomas November 07, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Nice letter, Ira! Also, good history lesson. I didn't know the voters rejected building a city hall downtown. Too bad. That could have been the place for all public activities...a hub: library, city hall, community center...etc. Instead, those buildings are spread throughout the Island and none of them are in the downtown core. To me, the voters in 1986 were shortsighted in that regard.
Thomas Imrich November 07, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Good job on the summary Ira. I concur. Additionally, I too still review the result as a clear indication of the validity of the advocated position to not support the Levy lid release, and as a lesson to both the Council and City. With very little effort expended, and negligible resources spent in education of the voter constituency on the true issues and consequences, over 40% recognized the significant flaws in the Propositions thesis. Had even a fraction of the relatively expensive PR spin blitz that was put up by the by the proponents been spent in opposition, and the consequences more widely identified, and the many better alternatives that truly could have increased safety and EP for Mercer Island residents been sketched out, the result this morning would have likely been different. As with the school bond vote failure, where now, with true citizen input, we hopefully have an opportunity to set out a much better set of options truly supporting education, and do it at a fraction of the original bond price. That is what we also could have had with this vote. Nonetheless, it is now time to move forward, do the real assessment for what MI needs overall to meet real safety and EP requirements, and then assure that the new station can best fit with that plan.
Kendall Watson November 07, 2012 at 05:54 PM
City Hall could well return to the Town Center area in the coming decade. This will likely become a big issue — if the city can find a developer interested in partnering with them in the Walgreens site development, which is currently the designated site for a Sound Transit EastLink light rail parking garage (the idea/vision is to place additional stories above it as a mixed-use project). Ira can add additional details, I am sure. This may or may not happen, but the current City Council is still very interested in this.
Kendall Watson November 07, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Hi again Lisa, I just wanted to add on one additional point: voters in early 1990 also rejected a large school bond issue and ended up paying more, cumulatively, for a scaled-down version of that plan in a series of smaller bonds. Some called that "fiscally prudent". Others called it "shortsighted", especially earlier this year when school bond proponents warned that failing the bond in April would repeat that same experience. It remains to be seen whether or not that will come to pass.
Lisa Thomas November 07, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I don't necessarily think that "over 40% recognized the significant flaws in the Propositions thesis." I believe there are basically automatic 30% NO voters on every tax issue and 30% YES voters on every tax issue. The most a tax vote can home for is 70% assuming every single "swing" voter supports it. So a 55% majority YES vote means of the nearly 2/3 (64%) of the swing voters supported the tax. Interestingly, for the school bond it was 60% majority requirement meaning that to pass they have to get 75% of the swing voters to support it. Also, a topic for another time perhaps, but when 60% is required, it means a NO vote counts more than a YES vote (specifically 2 NO votes = 3 YES votes) -- and it's never been clear to me that this can be constitutional -- namely that some people's votes count more than other people. I always thought it should be: 1 person, 1 vote, count 'em up. Not in the case of bonds, however.
Kendall Watson November 07, 2012 at 06:42 PM
@Lisa RE your comments on voter attitudes on tax issues: This is the accepted wisdom by current city and school district officials, as far as I can tell. But when measures like I-1185 consistently pass with well over 60% majorities, your latter comment is a tough philosophical road to hoe, IMHO.
Ira B. Appelman November 07, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Hi Lisa: Our leadership first tried in the 1980s what you suggest. It was called the Civic Center Plan and would have located all those buildings you list plus more in Mercerdale Park. That plan collapsed from intense Islander opposition. Our leadership then deceptively proposed the same plan claiming to locate ONLY City Hall in Mercerdale Park. The intent was still to create a civic center; they would just start with one building, though, as usual, they claimed it was only about City Hall. Islanders approved City Hall but in a separate ballot question, voted to locate it in its current location in a renovated insurance building. I don't agree it was shortsighted. At the time, future Councilmember John Nelson, a supporter of the Civic Center Plan, was quoted in the Distorter as saying that everywhere he'd lived, there was a civic center (so we should have one too). That's the problem. Mercer Island is DECENTRALIZED; that's part of it's charm and makes it different from Seattle or Bellevue or a variety of cities where you can find centralization. I am continually amazed at how many people move to decentralized, single-family Mercer Island claiming it's so much better than where they lived before AND THEN insist on changing Mercer Island to be LIKE where they lived before, including high density housing, centralization, and the elimination of single-family only neighborhoods.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA November 07, 2012 at 07:30 PM
. Although I'm disappointed in the "TearDown" decision on now doomed Fire Station 92, the comments above are all well written. Our City Council carried the ball. J-
Lisa Thomas November 08, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Kendall, I-1185 isn't a vote on taxes...it's a vote about general trust of the legislature (since the vote is about what it takes for them to issue new taxes; not a yes/no vote on a specific tax). Nationally, the approval ratings for congress are in the low teens. I doubt it's much different at the state level -- so it's not surprising a vote to disapprove the legislature gets such high support.

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