The Mill Creek City Council voted 7-0 to withdraw from the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee at the December 11, 2012 City Council meeting.
The City Council made this decision because as a member of the proposed Regional Fire Authority, Mill Creek would end up paying approximately $500,000 more per year for the same amount of service the City is now receiving from Fire District 7 according to the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee’s most recent financial analysis.
Regional Fire Authorities are formed to save money
The South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee was formed in 2011 and is comprised of representatives from Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Woodway; and Snohomish County Fire Districts 1 and 7.
The Mill Creek City Council appointed Mayor Mike Todd and Councilmember Bart Masterson to be Mill Creek’s representatives on the South Snohomish Country Regional Planning Committee.
“The purpose of the RFA was to provide a larger entity that has economies of scale and seamless deployment, a single command staff and that sort of thing so that efficiencies can be achieved,” said Councilmember Masterson at the December 4th City Council meeting.
Councimember Masterson believes cost savings is not the only reason fire authorites want a new organizational structure, “The primary concern is to get a funding source that is not dollar for dollar tied to property taxes. What brought this about was the housing bust that all of a sudden these fire authorities found out that they were grossly under-funded or over-budgeted.”
Fire District 7 provides fire and EMS services to Mill Creek
Fire District 7 operates Mill Creek’s Fire Station 76, which is approximately 30% owned by the City. One lieutenant, three firefighters/emergency medical technicians, and one firefighter/paramedic staff this fire station. The fire station has one dedicated fire engine and one dedicated paramedic unit owned by Fire District 7.
In 2012 Mill Creek successfully negotiated a new contract with Fire District 7 that runs until the end of 2016. Although this contract costs Mill Creek substantially more per year than the previous contract, both Mill Creek and Fire District 7 believe that it is fair and reasonable based on staffing levels and contracted response times.
Mill Creek’s new contract with Fire District 7 is written in such a way that the contract remains in force and goes with Fire District 7 if they decide to become part of a Regional Fire District.
“With the unknowns of what is the compensation for equipment and stations, what the unions are going to do, what the funded and unfunded liabilities are surrounding benefits and pension programs and how this entity is going to be governed, Mike (Mayor Todd) and I felt after heavy deliberation that it was important to us to get this contract for the remaining four years with Fire District 7 and to lock it up so that should Fire District 7 merge with 1, which they are very actively trying to do and should 1 and 7 become a Regional Fire Authority with or without Lynnwood or Mukilteo that our contract and its provisions go with it,” said Councilmember Masterson at the December 4th City Council meeting.
“So our citizens are protected, we’re protected with station 76. It is no longer important that we stay at the table. We have nothing to contribute, no equipment to contribute.”
“They have our money if 7 goes in with them. We have an economy for the next four years, which benefits all of us. We have an outstanding service. So we recommend that we, Mill Creek, step away from the table as active members of the on going planning committee however that may fall out. I think other councils are considering the same in or out up or down decision.”
Remaining members of RFA Planning Committee have decisions to make
According to Mayor Todd, the remaining members of the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee have until their February 2013 regular meeting to declare their intention of staying in or withdrawing from the organization.
The relevant city councils and fire district boards will certainly be discussing this issue and making their decisions in January.
At that point the organization’s finance committee will rerun their financial model and the remaining members will decide how to proceed.
The Snohomish County Regional Fire District Planning Committee’s goal is to draft a resolution to put before the voters on August 6, 2013, forming the Regional Fire Authority and beginning operation in 2014.