A look at proposed fire services contract

By Sara Bruestle | Jul 09, 2014

Mukilteo City Council recently had its first look at a proposed contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1 – though technically three of the seven had already seen it.

Bob Champion, Randy Lord and Steve Schmalz of the city’s Public Safety Committee are in the process of reviewing the 20-year agreement for fire and emergency medical services line by line.

They’ve already met five times over the last three months to go over the contract to see if it passes two basic tests: That it would provide the same or better level of service and that it would be cost-effective for Mukilteo.

Lord said the committee is now looking at the language of the contract to ensure that its fair and that there are no surprises.

“Some processes are better served at a larger organization, and I think fire service is one of those,” he said. “If we can find a more efficient way to do it, then let’s do it. I’m not convinced yet.

“The concept makes sense – we just want to make sure that the contract does also.”

Here is an overview of what the proposed agreement with Fire District 1 would look like, based on information provided by the city:

• The contract would give Fire District 1 total control of the Mukilteo Fire Department.

• It would cost the city $5.1 million in 2015 for fire services, with an average 2.5 percent increase each following year. In comparison, Mukilteo’s cost for fire services has increased an average 2.7 percent per year since 2009.

• The city projects a total savings of $10 million (most recent figure) over the contract’s 20 years, although there won’t be any savings the first two years.

• Fire District 1 would purchase all of the city’s fire equipment for $2.6 million – not included in the savings estimate.

• The contract does not merge or annex Mukilteo into Fire District 1. Residents would continue to pay taxes to the city, which would then pay the bill for service to the district. The current tax rate is $1.81 per $1,000 assessed value for fire services. Rates could go up to cover cost increases in the future.

• It covers fire suppression, EMS, training and fire prevention services at a fixed price.

• The fixed price figures in labor costs, administrative overhead, maintenance and operations, and Mukilteo’s share of equipment replacement costs.

• It alleviates several cost risks the city is facing, including these future needs: a ladder truck, medical services officer, battalion chief, fire inspector services and increased labor costs.

• It reduces overhead costs, including administrative, reserve vehicles and equipment replacement.

• All Mukilteo Fire Department employees would become Fire District 1 employees. They would wear different uniforms and sport an extra logo on their trucks.

• Fire District 1 Chief Ed Widdis would become Mukilteo’s new fire chief.

• The city would still own its two fire stations – one in Old Town and one in Harbour Pointe.

• A minimum of six trained firefighters and paramedics would continue to staff the fire stations 27/4.

• The city would get added services it can’t afford on its own: a community paramedic, public education, senior services, upgraded response and specialized units.

• If approved, the contract could be made effective mid-year or by Jan. 1, 2015.

• The contract has a clause that allows either jurisdiction to pull out of the agreement after five years.

“The contract works for Mukilteo because it saves us money and provides us better service,” Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “Part of the reason it does that is because it takes care of some of the risks we have as a small department.”

The Public Safety Committee also made five contract changes and/or recommendations:

• Set aside part of the $2.6 million in asset transfers in a reserve fund to go toward yearly contract cost increases.

• Slightly overestimate cost increases – from 2.5 percent to 3 percent – to make budget projections more conservative.

• Change the interest rate for late payments from 18 percent to 4.25 percent.

• Mandatory review and adjustment of the operating costs if and when Fire District 1 grows, or after five years if it doesn’t grow.

• Delete contract language that would have allowed “unforeseen costs” to be added without negotiation.

Council President Randy Lord said he and the other councilmembers will need to be very careful when deciding whether to approve the contract because it would be tough for Mukilteo to go back to controlling its own fire department.

“This is a one-way ticket,” he said. “It would be very, very difficult to go backward once you make this decision.”

Want more information? The city is hosting a Fire Regionalization Open House from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 9 at the Harbour Pointe fire station, located at 10400 47th Place W. in Mukilteo.

The City Council has gone over the agreement during meetings on June 30 and July 7. A public hearing on the contract is scheduled at a 7 p.m. meeting on July 21 at City Hall, located at 11930 Cyrus Way in Mukilteo.

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