Island voters during last week’s election approved an increased property-tax levy to fund the island’s cash-strapped fire department and filled open seats on seven of Vashon’s public boards.
From the cemetery and sewer district boards to the park and school district boards, a total of 13 seats were up for election, but only five were contested. One incumbent, Vashon Island School District board chair Steve Ellison, was unseated and two remain: Candy McCullough on the Vashon Island Fire & Rescue board and Doug Ostrom on the Vashon Park District board. The new members will begin their tenures in the coming weeks.
The results of the Nov. 7 general election will not be certified until Nov. 28, but preliminary results as of Monday show King County Elections has received and counted 528,304 ballots and has an estimated 14,829 left to count. More than 41 percent of registered voters county-wide cast ballots, and 57 percent of registered islanders voted.
Vashon Island Fire & Rescue
The island fire district’s increased levy passed with 66 percent (3,161) of island voters casting ballots in favor of raising the property-tax levy rate 56 cents from its current 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value to $1.50. The levy is expected to cost the owner of a $452,000 home — the island’s median value in 2018 — $678 per year starting next year. That is about $300 more than the owner of a home assessed at that value paid in 2017. Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) has not raised its levy rate in more than 20 years, and the district will finish this year with a $400,000 shortfall that was expected to grow to $1.2 million next year, VIFR Chief Charlie Krimmert said Monday. Instead, with the levy’s passage, the district is predicted to finish next year with a $661,600 surplus.
“(I am) very appreciative of the support and trust the island has in us,” Krimmert said Monday and stressed that while the levy did pass, the more than 30 percent of the island that voted against it can’t be forgotten moving forward. “(I want to) establish regular communications with the community so we are better integrated into the community and they are more aware of where we are and what we are up to.”
On the board, chair Camille Staczek also said that public engagement is a top priority going into the new year. She cited an islander who has been vocal on social media recently stating the district’s financial woes are due purely to the paramedic transition as reason for more transparency.
“That’s not true,” she said of the problem coming from the transition. “This financial problem has been growing because we haven’t raised taxes. The board now is aware of what happens if we don’t raise taxes. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Additionally, Staczek said staffing is the department’s most critical issue and the board plans to address it first.
“I see how many callbacks we get. Reinforcements are needed for staff,” she said.
Currently, VIFR employs 11 career firefighters and has three full-time staff members, including Krimmert, who are also firefighters. Additionally, the department has three part-time firefighters. A minimum of two firefighters work each shift. Krimmert said he wants to increase that minimum staffing level from two to three and hire nine additional part-time firefighters. He said he was happy to hear the board and he are on the same page.
Meanwhile in the contested race for the fire district’s board Position 4, incumbent Candy McCullough won over opponent Jan Milligan with more than 65 percent (2,784) of the votes. Throughout her campaign, she stressed the need for financial stability and increasing the department’s ability to respond to emergencies — two things Krimmert highlighted in his “state of the district” presentations leading up to the levy vote.
Reached Monday, McCullough says she felt “pleased and honored” to be re-elected.
“I look forward to moving the progress of the chief’s analysis and our plan forward,” she said. “I’m grateful because it’s been a long road to figure out what we need, and we have the groundwork for a plan.”
Andy Johnson, an island paramedic who works now as part of the South king County Medic One system, ran uncontested and was elected to the board’s Position 1.
Vashon Island School District
In the races for the two open seats on Vashon Island School District’s Board of Directors, Rheagan Sparks took Position 2 from opponent Jake Jacobovitch by receiving 70 percent (3,016) of island votes. Sparks was credited by Vashon Island School District (VISD) Superintendent Michael Soltman as being instrumental to the passage of the school district’s $9.9 million bond this past spring. She ran a campaign on social media and is now turning her attention to increased public involvement and collaboration.
“Obviously I’m very excited to have won, and I’m looking forward to working with the other board members to dig deeper into some of the initiatives like racial equity, mental health and anti-bullying,” she said. “But mostly I’m looking to … involve the entire stakeholder network and be more effective about educating the community and the school to have a proactive dialogue.”
Meanwhile, the Position 4 race between incumbent Steve Ellison and Spring Hecht was close, but Hecht won with 55 percent (2,324) of votes. Hecht has been involved with the island’s Racial Equity Committee, which was the driving force behind getting the district to pass a racial equity policy earlier this year Reached Monday, she said she is delighted to be elected and is excited for the opportunity to “work with the committed, caring and talented group of people who make up the school board.”
“I’m ready to get to work continuing all of the efforts to ensure equity in education and ensure the social, emotional and academic needs of every student are being met,” she said.
Vashon Park District
The Vashon Park District (VPD) board’s contested Position 4 race saw incumbent Doug Ostrom beat out newcomer Nick Keenan by receiving more than 65 percent (2,626) of island votes. This will be Ostrom’s second term on the board, and he said he is grateful to be re-elected. He said his main goal is to serve the entire island population, not just those who are very involved through sports or special-interest groups.
“I care about the park district, and so I’m happy to serve another four years,” he said. “I would like to be able to serve the interests of those who use the facilities more casually.”
Islander Abby Antonelis ran uncontested and was elected to the board’s Position 4.
Water District 19
In the race for Water District 19 board Position 1, Seth Zuckerman received nearly 73 percent (774) of votes and beat opponent Stephen Urban. Zuckerman ran on a conservation and environmentalism platform and said his priorities were to “keep our water supply clean, safe, ample and affordable.” Reached Monday, he said he is “deeply grateful” to be elected to the board.
“I appreciate that over 700 citizens of District 19 voted to put careful, far-sighted stewardship of our common resources ahead of the drive to indiscriminately release more water shares,” he said, addressing his opponent Urban and his comments about the difficulty of obtaining water shares. “I look forward to bringing that point of view to my service on the commission.”
Several other islanders were elected in uncontested races, including Lyle Harris, Jr. at the Vashon Sewer District and John Kimble and Jay Hanson at the King County Cemetery District. Kaye Pierson, Will Gerrior and Bob Therkelsen were all re-elected to the board of the King County Airport District.