Council: RFA would cost too much for same service
Mukilteo has opted out of talks to form a new fire district in south Snohomish County with eight other jurisdictions.
After two years, the City Council has decided that regionalizing the city’s fire and EMS services wouldn’t be worth it. Mill Creek and Fire District 7 have also backed out.
Of the seven cities and two fire districts exploring the possibility of forming a regional fire authority (RFA) in south county, Brier and Fire District 1 are still in it. Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway are supposed to vote this month.
After doing the math, the council voted unanimously on Jan. 22 to withdraw from the RFA Committee.
As it is proposed now, the average homeowner in Mukilteo would pay about $164 more a year in property taxes for the same service – and few added benefits.
“I’m not willing to spend that much more for what I already get in terrific service,” Councilmember Emily Vanderwielen said. “I can’t sell that to our community, so I will not support going forward.”
Fire services through the RFA would cost the owners of a $377,000 home $621 a year instead of the $458 in taxes they pay now. Service improvements would likely include more public education and better training.
“If we’re going to pay more, we should get more,” Council President Randy Lord said, who was on the RFA committee. “If we get the same, we should pay about the same.
“It would be very, very difficult for any of us to convince our citizens to pay more for less.”
Council Vice President Jennifer Gregerson said the RFA is the right vision for the region – just not right now for Mukilteo.
“It’s been difficult to make it fit together for Mukilteo,” said Gregerson, who was also on the RFA committee. “Part of that has been getting to that number of what does the fire service really cost. That’s been a battle I’ve been fighting for the last two years.”
Although it has backed out of the RFA, the city is still in talks with Fire District 1 about a proposed district takeover of the Mukilteo Fire Department. The district has proposed a 20-year contract to provide fire services.
A regional fire authority allows fire departments to consolidate and form a new fire district to provide fire service over a greater region. Snohomish County already has an RFA, which provides services to north county.
The cities of Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo and Woodway, as well as Snohomish County Fire Districts 1 and 7, formed an exploratory RFA Committee in 2011.
If enough cities and/or fire districts supported the formation of an RFA, it would go to a public vote. A proposal still is expected to be on the ballot in 2013.
Mukilteo may still annex into the RFA later, if its voters OK it. Property tax rates may also change.
“I believe this may work, but it doesn’t look right for us now,” Lord said. “So that’s why I’m going to step one back.”