Ballot Measure Highlights from the August 2023 Primary Election
Another August, another primary election! Every election cycle, I analyze the results of all the local government ballot measures across Washington State (with the exception of school districts). According to my tally, there were 68 local ballot measures this time across 23 counties.
As usual, I don’t have the time or space to write about all of them, but here are some things that stood out to me. I will post the full results to our Local Ballot Measure Database soon.
In Sumner, voters approved the creation of a new library capital facility area and the issuance of $15 million in bonds to build a new library along the city’s Main Street. The current library, part of the Pierce County Library System, is housed in a leased building that is too small, not as centrally located, and was not originally designed to be a library. The bonds will cover about 75% of the construction cost, with the remainder to be raised from other sources including state capital budget allocations and private donations.
Voters in Airway Heights approved the city’s annexation into the Spokane County Library District. The city previously contracted with the library district to operate the library, but annexation will free up $370,000 per year that the city intends to spend on firefighting and emergency medical services. The city also had a second, related ballot measure to build a new fire station, discussed below.
Fire and EMS
In Okanogan County, voters easily approved the annexation of Twisp by Fire District No. 6. Annexation will save the town $60,000 per year that it will use elsewhere. Currently the town contracts with the fire district to provide service.
Similarly, Tukwila voters also approved the city’s annexation to the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority. The city had entered into a service contract with the fire authority at the beginning of this year, but annexation will free up money that the city will use to un-freeze a number of full-time positions and avoid making budget cuts.
In Airway Heights, an $8 million bond measure for a new fire station narrowly passed. The measure got over 75% support but bond measures also require 40% voter turnout compared to the most recent general election, known as “validation.” According to Spokane County’s validation figures, 784 voters in Airway Heights needed to cast a ballot, and at first it appeared the city might fall short of that mark. However, ballots continued to be counted and the final certified results showed the city hit the target with just 10 extra votes to spare. Once again, I remind readers that every single vote matters, especially in local elections!
There were also a lot of fire and emergency medical service (EMS) levy lid lifts on the ballot; see the Levy Lid Lifts section below for a brief summary.
In Yakima County, an attempt to create a new Lower Valley Public Hospital District failed due to low voter turnout. Supporters had gathered signatures to petition for a public hospital following the sudden closure of the maternity and labor center in Toppenish in December – part of a nationwide trend of labor and delivery closures in largely rural and low-income areas.
Over two-thirds of those casting ballots within the proposed district supported the district’s creation, and both the Toppenish and Zillah city councils passed resolutions supporting the measure, but the creation of a hospital district requires 40% turnout compared to last year’s general election and turnout fell a bit short. Supporters have vowed to try again, but they will have to start over and collect new petition signatures for a future election.
In Pacific County, a $10 million bond measure to improve and expand the Ocean Beach Hospital and related facilities passed with over 70% support. Among other things, the bond measure will finance an urgent care clinic in Ilwaco (the nearest urgent care currently is about a half-hour away in Astoria). This was the second attempt to pass the bond measure, following an earlier election in April that fell just a few votes short of the required 60% supermajority for bonds.
Voters also approved an EMS levy renewal for Adams County Public Hospital District No. 3, as well as a one-year operations and maintenance levy for Okanogan-Douglas County Public Hospital District No. 1.
Parks and Recreation
Cheney voters approved a $13 million bond measure to construct a new outdoor aquatic center. The city’s former pool permanently closed a couple of years ago because of age-related mechanical problems.
Voters in the Anderson Island Park and Recreation District (Pierce County) and the Central Klickitat County Park and Recreation District both approved six-year extensions of their existing park and recreation district levies, which required a 60% supermajority.
Levy Lid Lifts
There were quite a few levy lid lifts on the ballot. In fact, by my count they accounted for 42 of the 68 ballot measures, or over 60% of the total:
- Six of the seven emergency medical services (EMS) levy lid lifts passed, receiving on average 59% of the vote. The only one that failed was the City of Mukilteo.
- Fire districts submitted an additional 33 levy lid lifts, not counting the EMS levy lid lifts mentioned above. Just over 75% of the measures passed.
- The other two levy lid lifts were in King County, where voters renewed an existing lid lift for veterans, seniors, and human services, and Bremerton, where voters rejected a public safety measure that would have added additional fire and police staffing.
Levy lid lifts often become necessary due to the 1% annual cap on property taxes under state law, which when combined with rapidly rising property values can lead to a significant drop in levy rates per $1,000 assessed value.
About three-quarters of the levy lid lifts on the ballot were the “multi-year” variety, which result in more revenue than their “single-year” counterparts – although how much more depends on the limit factor chosen. More and more local governments seem to be going in this direction in recent years as they deal with budgetary pressures and rapid increases to assessed valuation.
A few months ago, I examined our ballot measure data and concluded that there did not appear to be a significant difference in how single-year versus multi-year levy lid lifts fared at the ballot box, and that generally seemed to be the case in this election as well. However, success will always depend on many local political and economic variables, so each jurisdiction must make a careful decision as to what type of levy lid lift best suits its needs.
For more information on this complicated topic, see our Levy Lid Lifts webpage.
I’ll almost certainly have another ballot measure recap for you after November’s elections, and I’ll be updating our Local Ballot Measure Database soon with complete August results.
If your jurisdiction is contemplating a ballot measure of its own, check out our new webpage on Local Government Ballot Measures. This page provides information on election timing and considerations, ballot titles and explanatory statements, pro and con committees, determining the outcome, and more.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.