Talks of Regional Fire Authority ignite City Council meeting

By Ian Davis-Leonard | Jun 06, 2018
Fire Chief Chris Alexander

Discussion of the Mukilteo Fire Department’s future budget at the Mukilteo City Council meeting Monday night shifted toward the contentious possibility of the city of Mukilteo joining a Regional Fire Authority (RFA).

During Mukilteo Fire Chief Chris Alexander’s presentation of the current and projected budget for the Mukilteo Fire Department, the rising cost projections sparked dialogue regarding the future of Fire and Emergency services within the city.

By the year 2038, Chief Alexander projected a nearly $4.5 million budget increase as a result of increases in wages, benefit expenses, operations and maintenance, and local agreements.

With this large increase, the gap between the Fire Department and Emergency Management Services (EMS) revenue and expenses is expected to grow by more than $2 million to upwards of $4.3 million; money which requires funding from the budget’s general fund.

In an April 11 “Fire Sirens” column in the Beacon, Chief Alexander weighed the option of a RFA as a solution, saying in part, “The RFA would consolidate resources, create efficiencies and provide dedicated funding at more sustainable levels to maintain and enhance fire and emergency services in the entire area.”

Currently, the department’s total budget of $4,840,871 is split between Fire services and EMS, with EMS receiving 58 percent of funding and Fire receiving the other 42 percent.

Chief Alexander noted that while call volume has increased by around 35 percent since 2011, staffing for the department has remained the same at 24 staffers.

EMS transports have also increased substantially in that period despite the similar staff total.

Councilmember Sarah Kneller agreed with the Chief’s opinions on a RFA and supports putting the decision out to a vote in Mukilteo.

“I think that to be able to plan for the long term and also set ourselves up with a sustainable financial future would be a really diligent move for us,” Kneller said.

Councilmembers Scott Whelpley and Anna Rohrbough were not on board with the plan for a RFA, at this time.

“We need to put the fire out in the budget’s general fund before considering a RFA,” Rohrbough said.

Whelpley cited an estimated $738 increase in taxes per citizen and the loss of assets like the fire department as reasons for his pessimism toward the idea of a RFA.

“There is no way our citizens are going to vote for this,” Whelpley said. “We can do this a different route and sustain our fire department for the next couple years until we find out exactly where we are at budget-wise.”

No decision was made during the meeting, as the council was only scheduled to discuss the budget.

“I think there is apparently still some discussion to be had to make it clearer to all of us what the trade-offs are in terms of services and improved quality of services for our residents,” Councilmember Richard Emery said as the discussion ended.

Ultimately, if the council were to decide to move forward with an RFA, Mukilteo residents would have a final say in the process, as they would get to vote on whether they are in favor of the transition.

Should the council decide to join the South County Fire RFA, which includes Lynnwood and Snohomish County Fire District 1, Mukilteo citizens would make the final decision as to joining the RFA.

If it were instead decided by council that the Mukilteo Fire Department and the Everett Fire Department would form a new RFA, then citizens of both Mukilteo and Everett would have a final say in the merging of fire departments.

Prior to the discussion on the fire department’s budget, Chief Alexander also proposed an Emergency Management System Adoption Ordinance.

“This ordinance is drafted based on other city examples here in Washington,” Alexander said. “It includes what we need to include for emergency management.”

The plan establishes emergency management responsibilities for the city, it sets up a succession plan for both city departments and elected officials, and it also provides a strategy for modifying purchasing and contracting decisions during an emergency.

The ordinance decision was approved unanimously by a 6-0 vote. Council Vice President Christine Cook was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

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