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Fire District 7 notifies Mill Creek Council of intention to terminate fire contract

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Fire District 7 Chief Gary Meek (left) and Commissioner Randy Fay. Photo credit: Richard Van Winkle.
Fire District 7 Chief Gary Meek (left) and Commissioner Randy Fay. Photo credit: Richard Van Winkle.

By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.

Fire District 7 Commissioner Randy Fay notified the Mill Creek City Council at their June 13, 2017, meeting of the fire district’s intent to terminate their long-term contract effective January 1, 2018.

Lamenting the discouraging point fire contract negotiations had reached, Fay noted that the termination notice was procedural in nature “to protect the interests of the fire district tax payers and to provide us time to execute an exit strategy.”

He went on to say that he hoped the City of Mill Creek and Fire District 7 could come to a mutually acceptable agreement that would allow the 34-year relationship to continue.

Fay said Fire District 7 could not continue to provide fire and EMS services to the city at a loss and that they have given Mill Creek’s financial experts access to their accounting records to confirm the situation.

Fay said, “Recent conversations with the city’s negotiating team have led us to believe we have reached an impasse… The proposal that your consultant received from us on May 3rd is our last and best offer. It is as lean as we can go.”

In response to Fay, Mayor Pam Pruitt said that the City of Mill Creek’s fire contract negotiating team would try to reach a resolution at the negotiating table, not in public. She said she was hopeful an agreement could be negotiated.

In a June 14th email Mill Creek Director of Communication and Marketing Joni Kirk wrote, “The City of Mill Creek is disappointed that Snohomish County Fire District 7 chose to move contract negotiations into the court of public opinion and emotion, which is contrary to the negotiation ground rules agreed upon by both parties.”

“The City will ensure that public safety will not be diminished. Mill Creek will continue to have quality fire and emergency medical service.”

“Yet, this commitment does not mean the City is captive to unchecked cost increases. The City must balance its goals of providing quality public safety services while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”

The City of Mill Creek recently overcame a substantial budget deficit through revenue increases and cost reductions.

Kirk went on to say that the city has contingency plans if negotiations with Fire District 7 fail, “The City entered negotiations knowing that the parties may not be able to reach mutually agreeable terms. To ensure quality fire and emergency services continue within Mill Creek, the City has taken steps to provide fire services through an alternate provider or in house should the need arise.”

Kirk did not identify who the alternate provider might be.

Fire District 7 staffs Mill Creek Station 76 with three firefighters and two firefighter paramedics 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means they employ a total of 20 people full-time to provide this staffing level.

In addition to Station 76 staff, fire district 7 provides capital equipment and support personnel.

On Friday, June 16th, the City of Mill Creek hired a consultant to conduct a four-month study to analyze the city’s fire and emergency services needs.

According to Kirk, “The work includes a comprehensive analysis of Fire Station 76’s service demands, workload levels, service times for calls for service, and response times, as well as a comparison to industry benchmarks. In addition, the study will review the percentage of emergency medical service calls compared to fire response calls, as there is a considerably higher volume of EMS calls within Mill Creek. Anticipated outcomes include recommendations for staffing levels, optimal deployment schedules and equipment.”

Mill Creek budgeted $3.7 million for Fire District 7 fire and EMS services in 2017.

Fire District 7’s May 3rd costing model shows their total Mill Creek fire and EMS costs to be about $4.5 million in 2017, $800,000 more than what the City of Mill Creek pays.

Mill Creek hired former city manager and now consultant Bob Stowe in December to help negotiate a new fire contract. He is being paid a $4,500 monthly retainer for his part-time assistance.

City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto, City Attorney Scott Missall, and Finance Director Peggy Lauerman are the other fire contract team members.

Editor's note: This article was corrected to show that the date of Fire District 7's last and best offer was May 3rd rather than March 3rd.

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