Finding new strategies for city's fire service | Mayor's Message
As mayor, I have a responsibility to ensure that our city delivers critical public safety services in a cost-effective manner. At the same time, I have made a personal commitment to our residents to be transparent and forward-looking in the decisions we make at City Hall.
There has been a great deal of discussion lately about how we deliver fire and emergency medical service (EMS) for our community. I wanted to share a little background on the issue, where we are at today, and how you can share your comments on the choices we face.
Thanks to a dedicated team of professionals, our city is well-protected when we need it most. Last year, the Mukilteo Fire Department responded to over 2,200 calls for help; nearly 70 percent of those calls were for emergency medical service.
I am also pleased to report that our crews responded to over 90 percent of calls within five minutes.
For me, being transparent and forward-looking means that I encourage city staff to share needs and challenges early. I would rather know – and share with you – where we can do better.
Based on these conversations and the best information available today, I can tell you that our fire department will cost more over the next few years to deliver the same service. I want to explain why.
Over the years, we have signed agreements with other agencies for some shared services; these agreements are expiring soon. In 2017, our ladder truck contract will end and we will need to spend $1.2 million to purchase our own truck.
Unfortunately, my predecessors did not set aside any funds for it. The operational costs for a ladder truck will also add to our costs.
In 2016, we have a contract expiring that has allowed us to share a medical services officer with the city of Lynnwood. Because our city’s and Lynnwood’s calls for EMS are growing, it's unlikely we can continue to outsource this service.
This means moving from a part-time contract to a full-time position with benefits, which will cost us more.
Another cost that we face is the likelihood of salary increases for our firefighters. Under state law, firefighters cannot go on strike and therefore can appeal to an independent mediator for arbitration of their contract with the city.
Today, Mukilteo pays less than the other agencies that a mediator would use for comparison. While my administration works to contain costs, we face the hammer of arbitration that will likely result in increased salaries moving forward.
These challenges are real, and as mayor, I couldn’t simply accept them without looking for alternatives. Back in 2003, Mayor Don Doran convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on Emergency Medical Services, which recommended that we regionalize our fire service.
Since then, the City Council has directed efforts to consider regionalization many times. In 2012, the council directed Mayor Joe Marine to negotiate a contract with Fire District 1. That is the same contract that I am finally completing negotiations on now.
I would only propose a contract to our City Council and community if it met two critical tests: provide the same or better levels of service at a lower cost. If a contract won’t save us money, then it wouldn’t make sense to me.
The proposal that I have negotiated to contract fire and EMS would preserve response times, improve service levels and save money. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Over the last 10 years, the cities of Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Brier have all contracted with Fire District 1 and seen the same results.
I want to address a few concerns I know some might have as they hear about the issue. One common question is whether a contract will require new taxes or tax increases.
Last year, you heard me say that our city needed to take a break from the tax increases we’ve seen over the last few years, and I mean it. This contract will not require new taxes or a tax increase. In fact, it will reduce the pressure to raise taxes because it will save us money.
Because Fire District 1 is a much larger agency, they already have a ladder truck, medical services officer and pay appropriate salaries compared to other agencies. So these three cost pressures for us simply do not exist for them.
The economies of scale that we would achieve from joining into a larger organization are projected to save us at least $3.8 million over the next 10 years, and possibly much more.
In addition, this is a fixed price contract, so we can better predict and budget for the cost of fire and EMS, which means your tax bill won’t unexpectedly increase because of a new ladder truck or other unanticipated or unbudgeted expense in the future.
Another question is, how we can ensure that we will receive excellent service? That is a question that is very important to me. We cannot sacrifice on service quality to save money, when the lives of our residents are on the line.
The contract I will present to the City Council will include fixed levels of service, which Fire District 1 will be legally-obligated to provide. This is the same model that the other contract cities have used successfully for a decade.
In addition to maintaining service, because Fire District 1 is a larger agency, we will benefit from service enhancements that a larger agency can provide.
They are delivering medic services in an innovative and preventive way, through a Community Medic program. Additionally, the district has a much larger fire prevention and education division.
The one big change you would notice is that our firefighters would wear different uniforms. But I've always believed it matters that the right people arrive at your door to help your child, your mother, yourself, more than the uniform they are wearing.
And, if changing uniforms saves us $3.8 million over 10 years, it’s worth it.
What's most important to me, as we discuss the fire service and other city services, is making the best choice for our future in an open and transparent way. That means hearing from our residents as well.
Over the coming weeks, we will be providing information at City Council and other public meetings, online and at City Hall. I encourage you to find out more and let me and the City Council know what you think. We can be reached by email at email@example.com.