Fiscal accountability and transparency before politics l Council Corner

By Councilmember Scott Whelpley | Jan 09, 2019

The following Council Corner column is in response to Mukilteo Fire Chief Chris Alexander’s Fire Sirens column, published in last week’s Beacon:

 

I’m pleased that Fire Chief Chris Alexander shared the current concerns and agenda items the Council has upcoming in support of public safety.  However, in order to better understand why the Council has decided to make adjustment to the Interlocal Agreements (ILA) with South County Fire and has made the decision to reevaluate the intrinsic worth of having a private organization provide fire services for our citizens; I thought I would provide you all with a bit more clarity of the situation with fewer critical omissions.

@Ladder Truck/Battalion Chief @

The Council’s decision to discontinue the ILA with South County based on historical data provided by Chief Alexander.

Currently, our ILA with South County Fire specifies “Ladder and Battalion Chief services” - not for mutual aid.

Mutual Aid is an agreement between fire/police organizations providing (with minimal or no cost to either department) assistance should additional aid be required for a particular call. Why is this important? The ILA contract was a four-year agreement ($237,000 per year) specifically designed for calls requiring a ladder truck and Battalion Chief for Mukilteo.

In 2016 The ILA provided the city with 13 calls costing $18,230.76 per call, 2017 had 14 calls for $16,928.57 per call, and 2018 reported 8 calls currently equating to $29,625 per call with fourth quarter data still waiting to come in.

So, allow me to piece this all together: since 2016 there have been 45 calls for ladder truck service with South County providing assistance for 35 calls to Mukilteo for an average of $20,314.28 per call. During the same time frame, Everett Fire provided us service for 10 of those 45 ladder truck calls for a grand total of … $0 … yes, $0.

How is this possible you ask? Mutual support.

Everett Fire and other organizations including South County provide one another with mutual support. The most recent and actual call for a fire requiring ladder truck assistance occurred for a condo fire last year in which Everett Ladder Truck No. 5 and the Battalion Chief provided aid - not the organization that we pay $237,000 a year to provide this service.

Due to the enormous average cost per call for the South County ILA the council decided to end the contract in hopes of having the same mutual support we (21 percent of all Mukilteo EMS/Fire calls were outside of city limits assisting other fire districts including South County’s area of service) and others provide.

Ending the ILA is not a desire to end the mutual support South County and Mukilteo share, but to come to a realistic and sensible mutual support agreement for ladder service similar to Everett and other jurisdictions.

With all being said, a majority of Council agreed that paying an average of $20,000 per call was unacceptable for a service that can and has been provided for less or nothing through mutual assistance.

By the way: having the current South County ILA doesn’t guarantee immediate ladder service will be available should the truck be on a call and/or the alternate ladder truck on another.

Regional Fire Authority (RFA)

The Council did investigate the possibilities of pursuing an RFA for the city.

Further study revealed that your property tax bill would increase significantly anywhere between hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.

Currently, the cost of having city-run fire services averages around 40 cents per $1,000 of property value tax. An RFA would cost city taxpayers an additional $1.60 per $1,000. A home valued at $500,000 sees approximately $382 dollars of the current property tax used for fire/EMS services. If the Council would have approved a ballot for the city adoption of an RFA, property taxes would have increased the current tax rate $718 a year for the same $500,000 valued property with no assurance of loss or reduction in services.

Another point of concern for council is an RFA would require the city to relinquish #all# of its fire assets to the RFA district without any compensation for its value. Again, the Council felt the cost was too high for the amount of services promised but not guaranteed. There are so many other factors and data points that were a determining factor the I am positive most councilmembers would be happy to discuss any current and future public safety issues.

In conclusion, Chief Alexander was correct in his statements that there are many concerns and future decisions concerning our fire service needing to be addressed.  However, it is unlikely that an RFA or EMS levy ballot measure will be passed by Council this year.

Some members at City Hall have been adamant in supporting and defending these predatorial contractual practices under the guise of public safety; Council did its job by calling into question past decisions and reexamine all options that best support and protect, your neighborhoods while spending smartly for services.

As one of your Council representatives, I can assure you that I will respectfully continue to be open and honest on how and why we appropriate your tax dollars for public safety while being committed to bringing you real transparency and fiscal responsibility.

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