Recapping the February and April 2023 Ballot Measure Results
I don’t often write about the February or April special election results, simply because there are not very many ballot measures compared to the much busier primary and general elections. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant, though. Even if I don’t write about every ballot measure, I do add them all (except school districts, which we don’t cover) to our Local Ballot Measure Database after every election is certified.
This year was relatively quiet as usual — there were only 15 local ballot measures across the state in February (other than schools) and 20 in April — but there have been enough noteworthy results for me to write a blog.
Without further ado, here are some of the ballot measures that caught my eye, along with links to local news articles if you want more details.
Regional Fire Authorities Voted Down
There were two attempts to form new regional fire protection service authorities in Western Washington, and both of them were decisively rejected by voters.
In Grays Harbor County, voters rejected the proposed Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority with over 58% opposed. The authority would have served the cities of Aberdeen, Cosmopolis, and Hoquiam, funded by ambulance utility fees and a property tax up to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
This was the third attempt to create a regional fire authority in that area. The first attempt in November 2021 received over 59% support, while the second attempt in February 2022 received over 53% of the vote. However, both measures — which only covered Aberdeen and Hoquiam — required a 60% supermajority because they were funded in part by a permanent EMS levy and the initial imposition of regional fire benefit charges.
The latest attempt also included Cosmopolis — which is currently served by an all-volunteer fire department — but the funding sources were restructured so that the measure only required a simple majority. However, the latest vote failed to clear even that threshold as voters expressed concern about new taxes and fees.
Meanwhile, barely one-third of voters in Olympia and Tumwater supported a proposed Olympia Tumwater Fire Authority. The plan included an initial six-year benefit charge and required a 60% supermajority.
Several residents also filed complaints with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission alleging that a promotional mailer violated the prohibitions on using public facilities to support or oppose a ballot measure. For more information on that topic generally, see our page Use of Public Facilities in Election Campaigns.
Fire District Consolidations Approved
While voters rejected the two proposed regional fire authorities, the general trend of fire district consolidation and mergers still continues. Voters approved the merger of Mason County Fire District No. 11 (Island Lake) into Central Mason Fire and EMS. Voters also said yes to annexing Brier and Mountlake Terrace into the South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue Regional Fire Authority, which currently serves both cities by contract.
Hospital Funding Mostly Falls Short
In Grant County, a $130 million bond measure for Samaritan Healthcare passed with almost two-thirds of the vote. It will allow the district to build a new hospital and other related facilities. The land had already been purchased and most of the design completed when the pandemic shut down the project. By the time planning resumed, revenue had decreased while construction costs and other expenses had dramatically increased.
In Pacific County, a proposed $10 million bond measure for Ocean Beach Hospital fell just shy of the required 60% supermajority for bond measures. The proposition would have funded several projects, including an urgent care clinic in Ilwaco; currently the nearest urgent care is across the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. How close was the vote? Over 5,600 people cast ballots, and if just five of the “no” votes had voted “yes” instead, the measure would have passed. This is my periodic reminder that every single vote counts. Especially in local elections!
Meanwhile, a $19 million bond measure for Klickitat Valley Health also fell short of the required supermajority threshold, receiving almost 56% of the vote. The measure would have funded a hospital addition and other capital improvements. Similar attempts also fell short in August 2019, November 2020, and August 2021.
Meanwhile, two levy lid lifts — which only require simple majority approval, unlike bonds — failed. The Snoqualmie Valley Hospital levy received barely one-third of the vote, and the board will discuss whether to try another ballot measure later this year. The Skagit Regional Health levy received less than 38% of the vote; the public hospital district does not currently collect any property taxes for operations and maintenance.
Other Ballot Measures
In King County, voters approved a 9-year levy lid lift for crisis care centers. The levy is expected to raise about $1.25 billion for the construction and operation of five round-the-clock crisis centers for people experiencing mental and behavioral health issues.
University Place voters narrowly approved a levy lid lift to add police officers as well as a specialist addressing homelessness, park safety, and crime prevention. The measure was a scaled-back version of a similar attempt that narrowly failed in November.
Voters in Anacortes approved, by a wide margin, a levy lid lift for increased police and public safety staffing.
In two nonbinding advisory votes, residents of the City of Long Beach and Pacific County narrowly supported a ban on consumer fireworks on the Long Beach Peninsula, but it is unclear whether this will actually result in a ban. According to the Chinook Observer:
The county commissioners have previously said they were seeking voter turnout of at least 60% in the peninsula’s unincorporated communities, along with at least 60% support for a ban, before they would seriously consider prohibiting consumer fireworks on the peninsula. The Long Beach City Council had not identified any such preconditions.
And back in the February special election, voters in Vancouver renewed the city’s affordable housing levy for 10 more years, while Seattle voters approved a citizen initiative to create a public development authority (PDA) to develop, own, and maintain publicly financed affordable social housing.
The Complete List…
A number of other jurisdictions also had measures on the ballot in February and April — apologies if I ran out of room to write about your jurisdiction! I’ve posted the full results to our Local Ballot Measure Database, where you can browse by funding source, agency type, subject matter, and/or county.
New MRSC Guidance on Ballot Measures
Is your agency planning a ballot measure? We recently published a new webpage addressing topics such as election timing, ballot titles, voters’ pamphlets, pro and con committees, validation (turnout) requirements, and more. For guidance, see our page Local Government Ballot Measures.
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.